One of the more difficult lessons about growing into adulthood has got to be that nothing is ever straightforward when one is an adult. The layers of ambiguity that sometimes seem to smother the world were beyond my ken when I was a child.
This is a subject that I’ll be addressing in several BarkingShaman essays over the next while. Right now, foremost on my mind regarding this topic are the events of this evening.
Tonight was the first night of the Jewish holiday of Passover and my mother asked us to come over for her seder. There was never any doubt that I’d be going. I try to go see my parents for holidays that are important family times. As a rule Fire and Summer come along whenever one or both of them can. After several years of awkwardness, my mother no longer asks me to attend religious services at her synagogue, but I go to her home at least for diner for most major holidays.
So it was with a minimum of hassle that Fire and Summer took early days from work and the three of us plus the dog bundled into the car for the two hour ride to my folks’ house.
Anyone who has attended at Passover seder however, can tell you that it isn’t just a meal. Rather, the seder meal is a ritual in itself. For a number of reasons, I have avoided Jewish worship services and rituals as thoroughly as I possibly can since leaving Judaism to serve my Lady. First off, a Jew by birth leaving the religion is a really big no-no, and not just from a community perspective. Judaic law is rather clear on the allotted punishment for idolatry, which for a Jew consists of worshiping any god but the god. I prefer to stay below the radar of the god of the Jews to whatever extent I can, and not just because I believe it to be the polite and ethical thing to do.
Additionally, my Jewish faith and identity was an important part of my life and upbringing. I do not regret my choice (such as it was) to dedicate myself to the Lady or to become a pagan. However, I would be lying if I told you that being forever cut off from such a pivotal part of my childhood and family life does not hurt, it does. I know that Judaism was not the right religion for me, and far more importantly, the god of the Jews was the wrong god for me for many reasons. On the balance, I would far prefer a devout life as a pagan than a secular life as a Jew, which was what would have happened given the disconnect between myself and the Jewish god.
Unfortunately (or perhaps inevitably, given its nature) Passover was always my favorite holiday in the Jewish calendar. It is also the only holiday whose ritual is traditionally done in the home rather than the synagogue.
The fact that my parents accept who I am so far as to invite both my partners (plus our dog) to their home for a family holiday is invaluable to me. Especially given my health situation of late, our lives would be infinitely more difficult without my parents’ support. At times like these though, it can be a challenge not to shove the complete reality of my life in their faces. I know that my religious path is a source of pain for them (especially my mother) and I try as best I can to minimize its impact on them. However, I do this to the best of my ability without diminishing who I am and what I do in my religious life.
For instance, I have two tiny “token” tanto knives that represent the two knives I carry in my shaman work. One token is polished and one blackened with cold-bluing to stand in for my full-sized polished and rusted knives that represent life and death. I usually wear the tokens on strings hanging from my belt loops. I am bound to tell anyone who asks what they mean, and I do not choose to leave them at home when I go to see my mother. Part of being Her shaman-magician is that I am forbidden to lie when asked about aspects of my spooky job. This means that I have explained to my mother the meanings of my shamanic tattoos, tools, and hair cut (for those who don’t know, I shaved my waist length hair off during my death ordeal cycle and have kept it shaved for over a year since).
As much as I value the fact that my folks have us all home for the holidays, it is hard not to resent it when they appear to be pushing me back into the broom closet, so to speak. It brings my mother joy, or at least peace, to pretend for the duration of the seder that I am still Jewish. Striking the balance between pleasing the mother who raised me and being true to my other Mother is an especial challenge during this particular ritual. The cautious dance of watching what words I don’t say during prayers to avoid swearing falsely to the god of the Jews doesn’t do any great wonders for my mental state either. An amazing number of Judaic prayers are some form of swearing of fealty: “you are our god” etc.
I imagine that the careful dance of balancing the reality of who an adult child is with how their parents might want to perceive them is hardly one that is unique to people who have departed as radically from their parents expectations as I have. I am also well aware that my parents are rather unique in how completely they have been able to accept those radical deviations in the course of my life. My parents and I have an understanding which applies most times: I don’t ask them to be happy with the path that my life has taken and they don’t try to change that path. The logical continuation of that agreement is that they generally don’t push their unhappiness with my path on me and I don’t shove the evidence of that path in their faces.
Just as adulthood is not nearly as straightforward as I expected when I was a child (imagine my shock to find that so far no one has given me a manual!), compromises feature far more prominently than the child I was could have imagined. When my mother asked me to read the four questions in Hebrew tonight (and with no transliteration no less) I could have refused on the grounds that it was not a terribly comfortable thing for me to do. However, that discomfort has led to me staying up late thinking and writing. Come the dawn it will be all but forgotten. The unhappiness that refusal would have caused my mother would have lasted far beyond the next rise of the sun.
I like to think that this decision is the sort of thing that distinguishes me today as my parents’ adult child rather than just their child.