Just over seven years ago, I awoke early, went to work to arrange my unpaid parental leave (a topic for another post) and had a colleague install a brand new car seat in my aging car. Off I went to meet my 6-day-old daughter. A dear friend accepted the invitation to serve as godmother and accompanied me to the social worker’s office. We stopped at the supermarket to purchase a notebook. It is there that I would track every bottle, diaper change, nap and extended sleep for 3 months, as required for her adoption.
The social worker and notary met us in the conference room. My parents and close friend from graduate school joined. Amidst the mandatory paper signing, we stopped to take note of depth amidst the legalities. The unfolding path that led me to motherhood was far from straight. I wanted ritual to mark this moment of transition – from singlehood to motherhood, from dream to reality, from darkness to light.
On that first “gotcha day,” the day on which I collected my child and brought her home, I announced the names by which she would be called in English (on a daily basis) and Hebrew (for transitional moments in her life as a Jew, and as it turned out, by her grandfather). I sang about Miriam the prophetess. A friend offered some words of Torah and then we read a fortuitous poem by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis.
From where did you arrive?
Out of the womb of Eve and the seed of Adam. Angels show the unborn soul the secrets of heaven and of earth.
The soul pleads with God not to push him from the comfort of the womb. “I am well pleased with the world in which I have been living since the day You called me to be. Why do you desire me to enter this impure sperm?”
God consoled the soul. Do not cry. Do not be afraid, the world in which you enter is better than the world in which you have lived hitherto. Know, dear soul that it was for this that you were created. Here you will become My ally, My witness, My corrector, My co-sanctifier. Here is your place. Here, you will confirm My name. Here, you will bring strength to those who inhabit the world. Here, through you, You will offer testimony of My goodness. Welcome to the world.
I read this poem every year — on the anniversary of the day on which my daughter expanded our family to 2 and the anniversary of the day on which she became a member of the Jewish people, having immersed in the mikvah –– the Jewish ritual bath. Both those days call out my responsibility as a parent to guide, educate, nourish and grow this amazing soul so she might achieve her potential in this world.
At 7, my child is aware her skin does not look like mine. She is envious of my straight hair, even as I covet her macaroni curls. She authentically lives into her name — Zahara (from the Hebrew for radiant) — shining light wherever she goes with her zest and enthusiasm for life and the people who inhabit this world. She is rarely afraid to call out what does not make sense to her growing mind and expanding soul.
As I read Schulweis’ poem this year on January 19, 2017, my heart clenched. God consoled the soul. Do not cry. Do not be afraid. The world in which you enter is better than the world in which you have lived hitherto. Just post Z’s birthday, I thought, I imagine the plight of soul is like the Israelites’ crying to return to the narrow life of Egypt. Trading the fallow certainty of the past for the unknown potential of the future. Yet, justice calls on us to live into the fear, to stand in the foundational muck of the sea, to move forward towards redemption.
The world in which you enter is better than the world in which you have lived. As a parent, I feel deep in my bones this cannot be merely aspirational. In a just over a month, I see this is the case. Peaceful demonstrations, marches populated by participants young and old and more funds collected for the ACLU in one weekend than the entirety of the previous year. People are stepping up. We receive action alerts by text. Facebook groups call out one thing to do each day – or week. We state that fear, trauma, passivity and marginalization cannot become our new normal. We are energized. We act and pray hope into being.
Know dear soul that it was for this that you were created. As I listen to my child in the car, over dinner, in the airport, I see that this is true. My child speaks as affirmatively about the need to treat people with kindness and love as she does the desire for pasta and cheese for dinner. When asked what she does to make the world a better place, she responds, I help D (a classmate who has difficulty with his body).
Here you will become My ally. My witness. My co-creator. My co-sanctifier. Of late, my daughter has mentioned that she misses Martin Luther King. One day in the carpool line, I asked my daughter how she would be like Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that day. Her eyes got big and she made clear, Mommy, I’m not black. And, I’m not white. I can’t be just like them. I have to be ME. It is in finding her voice, her sense of self, her Jewish identity and her place as one of God’s sacred creations that she serves as holy partner to the divine each day.
The other day, I heard my daughter telling a stuffed animal, no matter how different you are, you are always perfect. On this 7th anniversary of my child’s entry into the Jewish people, as we welcome the month of Adar that calls us to let our spirit out into the world and increase joy, I say to the soul that grows in wisdom, grace, love and action each day, Here is your place. Here, you will confirm God’s name. Here you will bring strength to those who inhabit the world. Here, through you, you will offer testimony of God’s goodness.
To that exquisite soul who just yesterday exclaimed that she can make the world a better place by encouraging others – Welcome (again) to this world. You…and I have much work to do.
February 26, 2017/ Rosh Hodesh Adar 5777