Identity: Finding Myself in the Light of the Desert

March 18, 2015 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)


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After I graduated high school and prepared myself to head off for college, I remember sitting with my mom and a bunch of her friends as they talked about various high school and college grads from the area. Growing up where I did, the typical trajectory was high school, then some university experience and then into the professional world to do something.

There were some outliers whose paths diverged from this.

As they spoke of this one or that who’d eschewed acceptances from an Ivy League university or some great state school in favor of grabbing a backpack and crossing the country, their tones took on a distinct sound. They became somewhat hushed, brows furrowed and invariably someone said, “Well, I guess they’re just trying to find themselves.”

I found the concept preposterous.

How can one have trouble finding themselves? I mean, all you have to do is look in the mirror, right?

Boy was I wrong.

My entire life had been relatively planned. From the time I was a little kid I had a distinct sense of where I was going. In hindsight I’ve come to realize that the sense I felt so clearly was more a response to what others thought would be a good choice. In my TEDxFremontEastWomen talk from December 2013 I fessed up to the fallacy of my past planning as I’d come to know my new path.

Beyond the whole finding-one’s-life-purpose-and-following-one’s-passion thing, there is a deeper sense of identity that comes to mind for me today.

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending a Jewish Federation event. The speaker, actress Mayim Bialik, spoke at length of her deep commitment and connection to her Jewish heritage, the challenges that presents in her life and work and why remaining connected is so important. As I listened to this incredibly articulate and poised young woman, I began to muse on my own Jewish identity.

I was raised in what I’d call a culturally observant but not particularly religious home. We went to synagogue regularly for major holidays and as a child we attended Shabbat services pretty often as well. Throughout elementary school and into middle school I attended Hebrew School (primarily to prepare for my bat mitzvah). We observed the holidays and the traditions. We weren’t a kosher home. We didn’t “observe” Shabbat as far as not using the car or other modern conveniences. We did maintain a strong connection to our synagogue – something cemented even more after my father became the architect who would construct the congregation’s magnificent home.

Upon leaving my parent’s home for college any consistent connection to my Jewish heritage pretty much evaporated. I would remember the major holidays (usually because my mother called me) but my observance pretty much disappeared. A 1995 trip to Israel with my family temporarily sparked my interest in renewing a Jewish life, but the best of intentions melted away after I returned to my life in San Francisco.

It wasn’t until 2010 when I began my path to living a sober life that I began to more fully embrace the spiritual foundation of Judaism, something that I don’t know that I’d ever fully understood before. The concepts that I began to learn as I wrestled with the inner demons of addiction, concepts of living a spiritually grounded and focused life, resonated with a familiar clarity. In returning to a Hebrew prayer book that I’d received on my 1995 trip to Israel, I found comfort that the prayers recited every morning in the daily Minyan service focus heavily on gratitude to God, living a life of generosity and charity, being of service to others and true to oneself.

Tonight’s gathering isn’t likely to turn me into a zealot, a zionist, or even send me scurrying back to synagogue any time soon; but what it has done is remind me that it is the refracted light from the myriad facets of inner self that illuminates the path to constantly rediscovering who I am.


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