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Message in a bottle

I have many metaphors for the months since my December stroke. At times I've felt like a sailor in a tiny craft, skating across the surface of the unfathomed deep. I'm content, even singing a sea chanty or two -- until I realize how vast the waters below me are, and how a storm would swamp me. At times I've felt I'm on a rollercoaster, wheels ticking slowly as the cart ascends so gradually I forget I'm even moving -- until with a whoosh and a plummet I'm in freefall.

Here we are on the cusp of Pesach, and the cause of the strokes is still unknown. "Emboli of unknown origin," the specialist says. We're still investigating. This could take a while.

Yesterday my spiritual director and I talked about the challenges of hishtavut/equanimity (which I blogged about earlier this year.) About the Baal Shem Tov's teachings on yirah/fear, and how fear can be a path to God as surely as ahavah/love can be. About oscillating between feeling good and feeling afraid, and how to find God in that oscillation. (Apparently even the Baal Shem Tov knew that oscillation well. It's nice to be in such august company.)

The rabbinic school plan for this spring had been to take four courses. Instead I have taken three, and joked that my fourth class was Embodiment 101. I've learned more about the inner workings of brain and heart and arteries than I ever expected to know. And, beyond the intellectual learning, I've been reminded of how having a body is itself a spiritual practice. There's always something complicated or delicious or uncomfortable about embodiment.

My challenge, I think, is awakening to the presence of God even in this experience -- even in the times when I feel disconnected and overwhelmed. Not despite the discomfort, not despite my fear, but in them. Through them. There's a lot about the human body we don't understand, and that too is an opportunity for practice. For being the person I want to be.

I haven't written about this much here. It's not my usual subject matter; I'm no expert; I don't want to alienate or bore you. Blogging about my studies, about Torah, about the books I read -- these things are good places to focus my energy! But when I look back over the words I've generated during these months, it feels dishonest somehow not to acknowledge this part of my narrative too.

Besides, I think it's important for rabbis (and rabbinic students) to be transparent about who and where we are. And right now, for me, that means admitting that it's hard to live with uncertainty. In my best moments, I can see all of this as part of the blessing of my life as it continues to unfold. In my tough moments, I recede into fear and overwhelm. The two are as close together as the sides of a single coin.

I'm not sure how to end this post. There's no moral to this story. Consider this, instead, a letter from me to you. A message in a bottle.

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