No. 16: Stale-Ciabatta-on-the-Sea

I’m driving through foul rush-hour traffic to Santa Monica, my mother and son in the back seat, my mother’s then-boyfriend, Arthur, riding shotgun.

It’s the visual of Los Angeles traffic that threatens to unravel me even more than its frustrated pace.  That apocalyptic view northward up the 405.  A glinting march of cars to the horizon.  Any minute the brown clouds are going to boil, the enormous spacecraft is going to appear, and all those bodies are going to emerge from their Nissans, scurry around the freeway like hopeless ants, and get vaporized.

But it’s all good.  We’re on our way to Tashlikh, being held this year at the Santa Monica beach near lifeguard station 26.

Tashlikh (pronounced TASH-licccccch) is a Jewish tradition that’s practiced at the New Year, Rosh Hashanah.  You “empty your pockets” of the sins of the previous year by symbolically tossing bread into a living body of water, in our case, the Pacific.

Sins, schmins.

For me, Tashlikh is the chance to create the transition into a new year, a new beginning.  To retire any habits of thought or behavior, any unfinished, dogged, weighty psychic business.  The live water is a powerful reminder of the cycle of life, how thoughts and experiences move through us, how we can let go into the flow of life, be carried by the flow of life, trust the motion of life to take us forward.

It’s really quite Buddhist, as most things are if you let them.

The group that’s gathered near the lifeguard station is mostly families with kids. (Subcategories include: Funky-But-Competitive Private School Moms, Matching Lesbian Moms, and Former-Brandeis-Frat Boy-Turned Super Jew-Super Dads.)  Also represented are hot young Jewish singles hoping to spawn within the next five years or so, and politically progressive empty nesters in orthopedic sandals.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, who’s brilliant, personable, inspired and really, really cute in her cuffed jeans and good sunglasses, addresses the group that’s gathered by the lifeguard station.  She speaks stirringly about the transforming power of our greatest heartbreaks and mistakes that Tashlikh offers.

Rabbi Brous suggests that as we approach the ocean with our hunks of bread, we consider three aspects of the ritual.

1)    What loose emotional ends of the past year do we need to tie up?  Is there an apology we owe? Forgiveness we must grant?

2)    What intractable emotional situations do we need to simply let go of?

3)    Do we need to forgive ourselves?

Now’s the time, people.  Kiss your stale ciabatta up to God.

I stand at the edge of the giant ocean, the gentle surf hurrying in, a fresh wind blowing as the sun slants low in the sky.  My ridiculously tan, bare-chested son frolics in his trunks, makes friends, taunts seagulls.  He’s a California kid.

I look out over the ocean and I breathe.

I now forgive myself,” I say to myself, closing my eyes, “for all the ways I’ve let fear and a reptilian anxiety to merely survive run my life.  For all the decisions I’ve made out of fear.  For confusing bluster with honesty.   For trying to “be successful” when I might have been investing in the cultivation of my voice. I forgive myself for blindly continuing the pattern of severing that runs through my family, by severing myself inwardly, creatively. I now let myself create from a new place.  I trust this place will take me somewhere new.  I trust that I can create the things in my life that I want.”

Amen to that.   I open my eyes, drink in the abundant ocean, and chuck the carbs seaward.  Feeling like a person who has lived her whole life with her face to the corner of the room, and who now turns around to observe all that space.

In the car on the way home, Arthur asks me if I have really considered and researched the implications of becoming a dual citizen.

Well, actually, no.  But I’ve pictured myself in a Burberry trench, hurrying home on a rainy street to my fabulous loft apartment in whatever Berlin neighborhood resembles Williamsburg eight years ago.  Does that count?

“It’s my impression,” Arthur continues, “that the United States government doesn’t always take kindly to people who hold dual citizenship.  If you were to get into some sort of situation overseas, you don’t know if the U.S. government might tell you you’re no longer their problem.  It could be a difficult situation.”

Dude!  Way to stomp my mellow!  I just did my annual anti-fear Jewy voodoo!  Now the image of a hash bust at my Berlin house party while I’m just trying to shake my ass to some Turkish hip-hop is seriously threatening my nougaty cloud!

“You mean like how in this country,” I bridle, “when Hurricane Katrina hits, American citizens can count on the U.S. government to help them?”

“I’m not saying I’m a huge fan of the U.S. government,” says Arthur. “I’m just suggesting for your own sake and the sake of everybody else you should really be thoughtful and consider the enormous thing you are about to do, and educate yourself before you commit.”

“I’ll look into it,” I say.

“Hello…1-900-Bad-Things-Seem-To-Keep-Happening-To-Good-Jews-dot-Gov?  Yes, hi!  It’s Kathy here.  Say.  I’m just wondering.  (This is not for me, by the way – it’s for a friend.)  So say I get dual citizenship and then something really, really, really bad happens.  Are you guys like totally gonna dick me over?  And if so, when they make the Lifetime movie about my stay in a German prison, can you help me get my script to Toni Collette?  I mean, my friend.  Sure, I can hold.”