| Musings |

Planet Normal

But we ourselves, while loved, don’t belong. We don’t live on Planet Normal. We live on Planet Crazy

Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The music swirls around me, the dance steps synchronized. They’re all smiling. They all understand this joy. They understand the rhythm of bringing your children to the chuppah.

First they go to seminary, then they date, then they get married. Then they have a vort, then a shower, then an aufruf and a Shabbos Kallah. And then they wear their gowns and take pictures and have a shmorg and badeken and kittel and ashes and brachos and chuppah and smashing the glass and yichud and pictures and first dance and dinner and second dance and shtick.

It’s like The Fish and The Soup and The Chicken they serve their family on Friday night.

It’s how it works.

Nobody says, “Wait, which fish?” It’s The Fish. Everyone has it.

In the epicenter of this joy is me, and in the epicenter of me is a maelstrom. Because I’m churning deep in the quietest parts of me. For me there is no badeken or glass or dancing and there is no neat linear timeline marching through life. There is often no fish or soup or chicken. It’s sushi or cholent or tacos. Whatever brings the chevreh to the table.

The large extended family we are part of is loving and dear. Each one a treasure. They call us and love us and daven for us. But no one understands. In all this noise, there is loneliness. In all this water, I’m thirsty. In this lavish shmorg, I hunger to fill the hole that starves inside me.

This big family is a clan. They stick together. Everyone is exceptionally close. This is one of the things I love most about us. But it’s also the knife that cuts through me, because we alone are different. The kids who aren’t frum are different from their many cousins in obvious ways, but all of us are different in non-obvious ways. We’re the imposters, the emperor who has no clothes. Can everyone tell?

How can we be the same after knowing what we now know, seeing what we’ve seen? We’re tired. We’re weary soldiers on the field. We have new eyes that see everything differently. The important things, it turns out, aren’t important. The small infractions we lost sleep over as young parents are laughable in the face of what we deal with now. The sh’eilos we put to our rav have taken on a raw tenor, the fraught tone of parents in crisis. The psakim he gives us are for the emergencies of life.

We’re an emergency.

One of the things we’ve learned is that love and belonging is one of the most important needs of a human being. It’s why we bend over backward to make sure our non-frum kids know that they will never, ever not be loved; never not belong.

But we ourselves, while loved, don’t belong. We don’t live on Planet Normal. We live on Planet Crazy.

We talk about this location change with our fellow inhabitants of Planet Crazy, but it’s in the hushed tones of those who bear a shameful secret. We must not broadcast our new address in public.

Some of my fellow citizens boycott Planet Normal, because it’s too scary and too traumatic. We miss Normal too much, and the ache of not belonging is just too acute.

But I go. I visit every now and then, like at this wedding. But I’m a guest, an interloper. I don’t belong here, which is why I’m never sure if I’m going to cry or get sick to my stomach or get insulted. It’s a gamble, to visit Normal, and although I have every excuse not to go, I like to.

Every now and again I want to see what it might be like. Every now and again I want to talk about Normal things — wispy, inconsequential, childish things, like sheitels and recipes.

And then I remember, and I leave, and I crash-land in the arms of my compatriots.


(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 667)

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Tagged: Musings