So the lesson yesterday was less about Hebrew and more about how we name and identify each other. (I am grateful to my transgender nephew, a smart, thoughtful young man whose transformational story was a wonderful example to call upon for this family. Thank you, Joseph.)
Here are a few of the lessons we looked at yesterday.
Dear Mom: Don't stress if it takes you awhile to sort out the pronouns. It's completely understandable. You carried this child inside you for nine months, then when it came into the world and was inhabited by a soul, you were the first person privileged to be a witness to/nurturer of that process. You grew up in an era before anyone could have considered that more than two genders were possible. Give yourself a break and pat yourself on the back for accepting the beautiful soul that is your child -- in any package -- with immense and unconditional love. Applaud their curiosity and brazenness, and learn from their fearlessness as they take on the world in ways that were not possible for you. at the same time, go ahead and keep being the Mom, guarding your baby from the wolves that would devour them. It's a tricky balance, especially when your child is twelve.
Dear child: Bravo to you for daring to live your life, with all of its messiness and uncertainty and giddiness and remarkable poise, completely out loud. You are inhabiting your life in ways that your mother and I could not have foreseen when we were twelve. You are helping to transform the way human beings use language. You are helping the adults in your life to see glimpses of a future where we focus again on the soul, and remember that the body is simply a miraculous vehicle for the soul to get around in during its time here on earth. There is an amazing truth to your journey. And there is an impatience that comes with the journey, common to all twelve-year-olds who are chomping at the bit to bust out and live life to the fullest.
But in your zest and impatience, please remember that your folks grew up in a time that was different, more scared and closed-off, and it will take time for your Mom to deal with the pronouns and all the other hallmarks of having a child who lives in an freer and more open society. Please be kind and patient with your folks. The world they grew up in, and the risk-takers that shook it up at the time, paved the way for the world you get to live in today. You stand on their shoulders. Never forget that, because it's a debt you will only ever be able to pay forward. So be kind while we all wait for the day when the light bulb goes off and everyone gets the pronouns right as if it was never an issue. That day WILL come.
Meanwhile, thank you to this remarkable family for allowing me to be a fly-on-the-wall during this time of preparation, for what I've suggested -- and they've agreed -- will be called a celebration of Simchat Mitzvah -- the joy of the commandments. Dear T, you will be called to the Torah in November as One Who Takes Delight in the Mitzvot, because on that day five months ago when you demanded to know, in your own words, "What is UP with God?", you claimed the mitzvot, and Torah, for your own. Because after all, that is the question we Jews have been asking for over five thousand years. What IS up with God? And how do we use the answers to help us figure out what's up with US?
I look forward to learning more from and with you on the way to your Simchat Mitzvah.
And I am so grateful that I get to do this work of helping each Jewish family find their own doorway into Jewish life, so that in a sense they will no longer be quite so "off the grid", AND so their journeys can inform the whole Jewish community for the better.