Monday, August 17, 2015

Leaving Chicago

I decided to move to Crown Heights a month and a half ago. 

After a lifetime of relishing in the small-town familiarity of the midwest, I felt it was time to make a change. A number of circumstances aligned in such a way that a window of opportunity swung open unexpectedly. I felt like God was practically shoving me out the door, mobilizing me with a firm resolve that quickly rendered itself immune to any attempt at negotiation. Within a matter of weeks, I managed to reduce my three years in Chicago to three suitcases bulging with bare essentials. 

I had many reasons for leaving Chicago- and my choice surprised no one. Most would agree that I didn't fit in there. The combination of my age, marital status, and spiritual outlook made me feel like an anomaly in that particular community. People frequently asked why I lived in Chicago when my peers were all in Crown Heights.

But as I sifted the non-essentials from my most important belongings, I felt the wholeness of knowing that I was carrying much more than the items on my packing list. Everything I couldn't transport in my bags, I carried inside me. The skeleton that remained of my material life was counterbalanced by a feeling of abundance, for I recognized the rich spiritual life flourishing inside of me per the nurturing hands of the Chicago community. Despite sometimes feeling like the odd one out, I can't deny how deeply I was touched by the numerous genuine, devoted community members.

I felt it was important to establish closure by expressing my immense appreciation to these special individuals in my life, so I made several arrangements to meet friends and mentors to say goodbye. But in these meetings, I couldn't hear their words and I floundered for my own. The fullness I felt overwhelmed me. I couldn't let anything in, and if I let anything out it would all tumble away. I was like a swollen suitcase, overpacked with bittersweet memories and fresh thoughts of the future that rippled with anticipation.

I tried to soften the potentially awkward silences with appreciative smiles. I repeatedly escorted my guests to the door too soon, as though I were fearful that every second spent together was another second that would later be missed. I curled away from each final moment, keeping it at arms length, banishing it to the periphery of my experience.

Maybe the reason Chasidim never say goodbye is because they can't. They can't help but shrink backwards and swallow their words at the prospect of goodbye, lost in deep admiration for their fellow Jew. A community of Chasidim has the potential to make an imprint on the core of a person, speaking to a place beyond the level of articulation. Maybe words would cheapen those parting moments, and my silence unwittingly honored the transcendent nature of those relationships.

I came to Crown Heights in search of something. I hope to reap the benefits of my new community, to find a comfortable social and spiritual home. But as I journeyed away from all that was familiar, I also became aware of my own potential to be a giver by virtue of the vast gift I had already received: A sense of wholeness and conviction cultivated by a community of passionate, truth seeking Jews. 

I realized that as much as there is to be gained here, there is even more to give. Now it's my turn to release those lessons of kindness and truth so they may flow into another crevice of the world and fill up someone else.