Monday, September 29, 2014

In the Velvet Darkness of the Blackest Night* or The View from 2:45 a.m.

The Urban Bungalow is quiet at this hour, Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians respectfully camped out next to me on the mattress in Little Babe's room that is, in fact, his bed, arranged teenage-style.

Minutes earlier, my Israeli nephew quietly came through the front door, returning back home after a farewell night with friends before he leaves for his post-army American road trip.

Midday, the two of us spent more than three hours at the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan. Wandering amid throngs of people, we were dazed and dazzled by the sunshine, the spectacle, the booths, the music, the dance, the cups of mead, the oversized turkey drumsticks, dripping with grease, the duels, the human chess game played on a field beneath the Cloisters, the meditative glass blower, the purveyor of ancient dentistry and other forms of merry entertainment.

Endlessly fascinating was the profusion of era-fetishists --  the civilians who came attired in their version of the Dark Ages Best Dressed List -- looking like goths, members of a punk band or residents of Williamsburg, Berlin or Middle Earth. In velvet, leather, chain-mail, animal skins, corsets, spilling cleavage, heavy boots, helmets, tattoos, bared midriffs, wreaths, veils, capes, caps and other archaic finery, they touched me with their wish to wear the wardrobe of another time and place. I wondered what they were drawn to or what they sought to escape. They were multi-ethnic pre-modernist postmodern performance artists, wandering the paved pathways of Upper Manhattan, transforming the landscape with their costumes and their poignant quest, which seemed prayerful, reverential, deeply and sincerely religious.

At the festival, I longed for the presence of my three grown children, recollected our long-ago visits to the legendary New York State Renaissance Faire, held in Sterling Forest in Tuxedo, New York.  I recalled the swords and shields we had bought our sons -- eleven years apart; the jousting matches we had cheered on; the wreaths and fairy wings our daughter wore. I remembered awkwardly shooting arrows at the archery range and wandering worriedly through the labyrinth and falling off a shaky contraption called Jacob's Ladder. How my kids would have loved the quirky fun of the Fort Tryon festival; how its very proximity to our Manhattan home would have delighted them, even as adults. Especially as adults.

Several hours later, sunburnt and slightly dehydrated, heading for the A train with possibly three thousand strangers, I heard about the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group through which enthusiasts of pre-17th Century Europe connect and find out about opportunities to dress up and celebrate their favorite historical epoch. For perhaps the billionth time, I praised the Internet for the mitzvah of bringing people together.

Regarding anachronisms, the summer-like weather of the past few days was both a worrisome sign and a delight. Having heard reports that the upcoming winter is shaping to be even worse than last year's relentless reign, I welcomed the heat that insisted upon loitering into late September and yet, with the urgent message of the People's Climate March still ringing in my ears, I knew that this gift comes with a steep price tag.

But it is not my aim to write about the weather at this hour, nor even the marvelous fair overlooking the Hudson River.

Instead, it is my intention to document this moment of wakefulness, this sliver of soul disturbance following a flawless fall day. It is my duty to examine the act of staring into the velvet darkness of a liminal moment -- poised between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, between midnight and morning, unmoored, one week after Big Babe, my oldest son, returned to Berlin after a month's stay, five weeks after the return of Little Babe, my youngest son, to his Pennsylvania college, one month after the wedding of my daughter, Middle Babe and three weeks after HOBB and I marked our 31st wedding anniversary.

As someone forever in search of connection, I experience transitions and separations as invariably tinged with pain. The many morphings of a family take emotional adjustment. Milestones occasion great introspection and evaluation. Marriages go through grand upheavals when children are grown and the respective dreams of the liberated spouses collide like comets.

Though I ponder these matters during daylight hours, the deepest processing happens in the middle of the night.

As someone who loves deeply and possessively, as I believe one is entitled to, I ponder that which I have and seek. I take my cue from God, depicted in Scripture as a jealous God, forever outraged that His chosen people are consorting with other gods. I love that unabashed pronouncement about God; it is so honest. I, too, believe in relationships where such jealous claims can be made, where one is empowered to stake one's claim against other gods, human and otherwise.

I deeply believe that some things are so sacred and basic that they are worth fighting for... or grieving over, if lost. I believe in being called to account for my own inability to satisfy the jealous God emotional needs of those nearest and dearest to me.

Sacred, too, within this dark room are one's dashed dreams. The pain, outrage and sorrow experienced at the moment of this honest encounter can be either cataclysmic or a catalyst for change.

This clarity comes in the space between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is a clarity that induces a form of madness, or perhaps is borne of madness. The quest for Teshuva is not just about atonement for our sins but for the restoration of all that has been shattered and lost.

In the darkened room where I am alone with God and my private self, I can name feelings without blame or reproach. I can say Ashamnu, Bagadnu, beating my breast...or not. Alone, apart from the congregation, I can confront my sins and failures as well.

Perhaps I can even befriend them.

I can confess my hurt and my shortcomings and feel comforted by the maternal night.

Adopted nearly 54 years ago, I can examine the wounds that will likely always be mine.

And because it is night, I can dream of the time when they will be healed.

In this quiet room, dreams start to take shape. At this moment, I strive for strength, steadfastness and fortitude.

Deprived of external images, introspection yields understanding. I return to the task of Teshuva. I pray for honesty. I see my own misdeeds. I see pathways to restoration. I struggle, like Jacob, with dark angels. I twist and turn like I did on the aptly-named ladder at the Renaissance Fair so long ago. I fall, I land in dirt, I get up, I attempt to steady myself on the shaky rungs. I take aim at the archery range, missing the target repeatedly, trying again, gaining a bulls-eye eventually. I wander in the labyrinth, lost, found, running on instinct, fear and exhilaration.

In this space, I can focus on faith, something I am deficient in, like Vitamin D. I can believe that the new day will bring insight. I can believe I will be given a gift or a key or that I will have a personal encounter that will change my life.

And then, I will feel whole. Perhaps.

Mostly, at this hour, I can write freely, thereby dignifying the fact of my solitude, a necessary pre-condition for insight.

And like the Medieval enthusiasts who find one another through a website, I can reach out through this 21st Century portal and connect with all those who sit in the darkness of liminal moments, longing for connection, salvation, revelation, redemption.

*Lyrics unabashedly stolen from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. "There's a Light."