What is Ahead of Me?

Rachel S. Harris
February 26, 2013
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For the mothers of single daughters – this column is for you….

In her article this month Susan Silverman says what is ahead of us is built upon what is behind us. She argues that the values, Jewish ideals, and religious beliefs we have, direct our hand at every turn so that the decisions that happen are the fruit of the trees we have long ago planted.

What if we tried to remember this more often, when we are in the middle of the quest and not just reflecting back on it afterwards…

Earlier, I told you of Mr Perfect who arrived long after I had ceased to believe he would ever appear. I decided I would have a life of adventure instead and be the cool maiden Aunt. Then he arrived, like the other glove, comfortable, right, a perfect fit. I yell at him and tell him he’s late. He reminds me he’s older and waited longer.

On our second date I told him about the book I’m writing on women in Israeli cinema – he kept telling me about films I didn’t know and information about actors, directors, documentaries. For twenty years he has been interested in Israeli Cinema, he didn’t know he was gathering knowledge as a basis for the married life he would build. I commute 600 miles a week to work – and when he told me of his work as a transport planner I spoke of trucks and torque – he tells people that’s when he fell in love.

A single friend phoned. He said ‘You are one of them now’. ‘Yes,’ I replied ‘I am one of them’. But I was single for much longer than I have been engaged and I listened for years as people told me why I wasn’t married yet.

So I want to tell you that it wasn’t because I was too fat, though I could have stood to lose a few pounds.

It wasn’t because I was too smart, and should have said I was a librarian on dates instead of a professor.

It wasn’t because I was too religious, or not religious enough.

It wasn’t because I was too capable: how will a man feel needed? they asked me.

And it wasn’t because I was incapable: you should know how to cook, and clean, and sew, and make a man happy, they said.

It wasn’t because I was too sad in a crowd, or too happy, too loud or too quiet.

Though once in a while it might have been because I was afraid to be me because that was frowned upon, and if I don’t want to be with me, then why would anyone else.

I wasn’t too picky, and I wasn’t too easy.

And it wasn’t because I didn’t take the broken plate from the wedding, or drank from the havdalah cup, or didn’t wear a new dress to shul on Rosh Hashannah. It wasn’t because I chased men who didn’t want me, or was chased by men I ran from.

I wasn’t single because I HAD DONE SOMETHING WRONG or worse because the men around me were doing something wrong either –

and every day that I woke up and enjoyed being me, living my own life and building my own happiness, I wasn’t a failure because I was doing it alone – sometimes it is important to tell your daughters that.

So I thank my mother who asked me if I really wanted a husband, because after forty plus years of marriage she wanted me to know that it’s really hard work, and not always worth the effort – and when I found my beshert she told me that it didn’t surprise her – it was just my turn.

I don’t know what is ahead of me, but I know that it is built on the foundations of who I am. Each time I was told I was successful and inspiring, that I was beautiful and kind, that I was smart and thoughtful, and these sentiments weren’t followed by isn’t it a shame that you haven’t found someone, or why can’t a guy see….. but instead were part of building my self-esteem and my sense of well-being – a brick was added to my human edifice. It is the values, plans, hopes and dreams, the being the most me that I can be – that have led me to be the person who fits my matching jigsaw piece. What is ahead of me I cannot guess, but it is built upon a solid sense of self, and grows on branches that have been well tended and well watered, on trees that were long ago planted.

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Rachel S. Harris is Assistant Professor of Israeli Literature and Culture in Comparative &World Literature and the Program in Jewish Culture & Society at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has published on contemporary Israeli literature and culture in the journals Israel Studies, Shofar, and Modern Jewish Studies. She has written on suicide in Israeli literature, and more recently on women in Israeli film. Her co-edited volume bringing together articles on a range of subjects “Narratives of Dissent: War in Israeli Culture and Arts” will be published in the Fall through Wayne State Press. She is also the series editor for the Dalkey Archive Press “Hebrew Literature in Translation Series” and the Hebrew editor of “The Levant Notebook” an online literary magazine bringing together Middle Eastern fiction and poetry in English translation, along with reviews, and opinion pieces on the state of culture.

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