this thing called shame
it has no words, a
that lives just beneath the
whether we are aware or
not. Its ugliness rises up
with the slightest insinuation
and rather than admit it
we block it out and
move forward with a machete
chopping down everything in our path.
rather than asking for help
when life gets tough we
to silence us
and then we attack
whatever we can find that
is just a bit smaller than
Just in case y'all were wondering, I have many different writing voices and as I am stepping into my wholeness I am going to be sharing them all. So this one might be just a tad different from the last- Enjoy!
I do not think I should be reading Annie Dillard in the bathroom. As a Rabbi who studies biblical text in the bathroom, I am surprised by this thought. Her prose holds a sanctity beyond the parchment of Torah. I started reading Torah in the bathroom at about the same time I stopped believing my parents were gods and the body was the devil. My parents taught us from the beginning that eating in the bathroom was forbidden as you could not make a blessing and say Gods name while pooping. I am not really clear why this was a rule in my house as we never seemed to make blessings on our food unless it was the sabbath or a holiday and yet, this rule stuck. But slowly, over days and weeks, months and years, I let go of this belief and when I did there was no going back. If the body was Gods, and not the Devils then the body deserved more respect than the book. Without the body, the book is meaningless. And so, I would study in the bathroom, I mean lets be honest the bathroom is the best place to read in the house, and I did not feel that my study should miss out on my deepest focus.
I intuit that the body that was lovingly created by God is a holy vessel and not reading Torah while pooping is actually disrespectful. Who am I to judge shit as bad. My family knows that poop holds a sacred place in my heart as they will all tell you that I love talking about the shape of my poop, especially that one time when it curved around itself forming a double Helix, my very own DNA strand.
Why would God who created me, my body, and my shit, feel disrespected if I shared Gods word in the very place where the body, God so desperately wanted to create was doing its most grounded work. Jews and their purification rituals, exhausting, and in my opinion quite possibly the opposite of what was intended. From dust you are born and dust you shall return. It is a mini death experience every time we poop. Or as my friend Basya likes to say, “A good poop is like a great orgasm. Both death and orgasm a return to The One. And yet Annie Dillard who can describe the natural order in sacrosanct terms, who elevates the existence of a spider living behind the toilet to ethereal heights and leaves me feeling the awe of God, makes me want to create the holiness of separation. Maybe the bathroom’s holiness, the ability of the body to relieve itself, eliminating the unnecessary and retaining the necessary coupled with the holiness of the word make the awesomeness, awful. Awe-some awe-full. Why is some awe an amazing feat, but full of awe leaves us in pain? Maybe the holiness of the body and the holiness of Annie Dillard makes me awe-full. And as I look down at the title of the book I recognize that Ms. Dillard understood it all along, for the title of the beloved book is “Holy the Firm” and what else is there to say about a good poop.
I lay in my bed in a pile of self judgement when my cousin Laura texted me asking if I wanted to meet her for the 45 minutes between dropping her daughter at school and a 9:15 meeting. The idea of getting myself out of my shame spiral was enough to get me out of bed, get dressed and walk the 4 crosstown blocks to meet her for 30 min. I had a feeling that Laura, who has developed so many layers of compassion in herself, might help me to snap out of it. We sat on a wooden bench in front of Birch Coffee on Columbus Ave.As we sat there I complained that I am 40 years old and yet to develop a bit of the compassion I need. She kindly looked at me and said, “Esther when did u start working on this?” I laughed and said “ok, fine, just 6 months”.-And as I took a big mouthful of my cold brew she responded, I understand wanting to be valedictorian of self compassion but you can’t be, that’s not enough time.” I had to seal my mouth shut to keep from laughing and spitting the coffee all over the sidewalk and the oncoming pedestrians. When I finally gulped it down, I spit out a shut up, in that most loving way. A cross between fuck you, and why are you sooooo right? After the shock of my shut up wore off, we both laughed.
Self judgement has been my mantra for so long, I believed that if I judged myself I would make myself better. The thought that being kind to myself might actually be a better choice never occured to me. The truth is, I don’t think I realized how judgemental I was of myself. And even today when someone holds me with compassion, it hits up against my deepest vulnerabilities. I think it has something to do with a need to blame myself for everything that went wrong in my childhood so as to maintain some semblance of control. If it was my fault, then maybe I could fix it. If it was my fault that an adult exploded in a fit of rage, than maybe, if I was quieter, nicer, thinner, smarter... than I could fix it. Today that amazing tool that I created to keep me safe in a confusing, painful world is no longer serving me and yet I am grateful for all that it, meaning my self judgement, has given me. It gave me a sense of control in an uncontrollable world and as a child that is exactly what I needed.
Today I want to give the responsibility back to those that are responsible. It is not my fault and I cannot control your behavior no matter how good I am. Today I want to say thank you to the part of me that holds the judgement that kept me safe. And bring compassion to the parts of myself that have felt harmed and the parts that have judged, so that all of my parts feel welcomed and loved.
Rabbi Esther Azar