All my relations: I had lunch today with my aunt, for the first time in awhile. She’s had cancer since last Christmas and is still going through chemo, but she seems to be doing better. She’s looking frail, but we didn’t talk about her illness; I asked a couple of open-ended questions and then let the subject drop, as she was more interested in giving me advice about my job search (this has always been one of her favourite activities). Since we were eating, and since it’s been a pretty major new thing in my life, I told her that I’ve been exploring Judaism and I keep kosher now. She had to ask what that means and what I can’t eat, which surprised me, but I tried to give a nice concise answer. “No pork, no shellfish, and I don’t eat meat and dairy in the same meal. But fish and dairy is okay.”
That sounds complicated, she said. I explained that it wasn’t as onerous as it might sound, and that I eat very well, and in fact I cook more and pay better attention to what I’m eating now than I did before. This was the part that mattered to her–she worries after my eating. And ordering food wasn’t difficult: chicken breast sandwich with lettuce and mayo, chips, that checks out. Pepsi, pareve. Cheesecake was out for dessert, but the apple pie was okay.
I’d been worried about telling her, because she’s often very blunt about personal decisions like that, and (like the rest of my maternal relatives) she’s a good Catholic. But the only wince-worthy moment was when she earnestly asked if I’d done any networking at synagogue, because “Jewish people are very good with business.” I just told her no, the people at synagogue were mostly retired or they worked in education, just like our family does. No special Jewish financial bonuses for signing on.
Life is strange; I saw the sun last night, as I closed my eyes to sleep: New mitzvot I’m trying to pick up. I wrote out Modeh/Modah Ani on a card and taped it up by the bed, and Asher Yatzar in the bathroom. This has helped me practice writing out Hebrew (I am very, very bad at this), and it also helps me read it as I try to focus on those letters and only look down at the transliteration if I have to. I have pretty extreme anxiety attacks a lot, especially at night, and thanking G-d when I wake up alive and okay makes perfect sense to me. I really am grateful every time and I love being able to say the prayer. I did wonder whether I should say it after a substantial nap (like three hours or so), or if I woke up at sometime other than morning, e.g. shift work or just sleeping inverted days. The impression I get from looking it up is that since Modah Ani does not contain G-d’s name, one can say it after any substantial amount of sleep, but is only obligated to say it when awakening in the morning. If this is wrong, feel free to correct me. I sleep weird hours, so it is relevant to my interests.
Asher Yatzar is a weirder one, but I really like it too. We’ve all had Unfortunate Moments when the tubes and cavities are not in working order, and being grateful for their good functioning seems to me like a better spiritual hygiene practice than only praying for their repair when things are going wrong. I like the way the blessing brings wonder to a totally mundane function, acknowledging the complexity of the human body. And I can say it several times a day, which helps me learn.
We had a couple of thunderstorms here recently, too, which gave me the opportunity to say that beracha. Those berachot on sights, smells and discoveries in nature are part of Judaism’s great beauty to me. Yes, we can thank G-d in any language at any time for whatever is beautiful to us, but ritualising it gives it greater weight. I bless G-d for his creations even when I personally don’t feel inspired or impressed, because my reactions and emotions are not what make thunder great. The fact that I’m used to my digestive system’s functionality doesn’t make it less worthy of praise. G-d’s activity in the world deserves blessing for the sake of what it is.