These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

This Isn’t Goodbye, Jerusalem! This is See You Later

Posted on June 8, 2012 by Ma'ayan Dyer

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(X-Posted from my blog, Lost in Jerusalem:

Well, I’m no longer lost in Jerusalem, the most interesting, intense and unique place to have the pleasure of being lost in. I’m now lost just somewhere in the vast world. Two full days of travel without sleep, three airplanes, and one jetlagged day later, I have found myself sitting in my robe at my parent’s place, by myself, surfing Craigslist for a job, and drinking cup after cup of coffee. Talk about feeling lost.

Looking out the window at a grey, rainy Oregon sky is like looking out at a different planet. Where is the clear, blue summer sky? The tree-lined Rechaviya streets? The white stone buildings? Where is my beloved Jerusalem? Did I really say goodbye to all that I’ve grown to love over this past year just a few short days ago? Wasn’t I just praying at the Kotel, tears streaming down my face, feeling that I was saying goodbye to God Himself, unplugging from the vibrant Jewish life that I’ve been so blessed to live?

Perhaps I am coming off as overly dramatic, but as anyone who has left Israel will tell you, it’s impossible to leave and feel that you haven’t left a significant piece of yourself behind. As my plane lifted off the ground, I began sobbing, my face buried in my hands, hiding behind a curtain of my disheveled hair. “Not yet!” my mind screamed. “I don’t want to go! Israel…you’re breaking my heart.”

Saying goodbye and simply letting go when it is time to doesn’t come easily to most people, even when you know that you’ll be back one day. With me, there’s that tiny, but insistent voice in my head saying, “but what if something happens? What if nothing goes according to plan? Remember last year? Remember how your plan didn’t work out at all?” It’s a manipulative little voice because on the one hand, it’s telling the truth; last year didn’t go according to plan at all. However on the other hand, the plan was nowhere near as good as what took its place, so why should I fret over having a few curve balls pitched at me, and encountering unexpected twists and turns along the way? Somehow, things always end up working out in the end, and that’s exactly what happened over my year in Israel. It’s like God dumped a jigsaw puzzle into my life, and told me to just start assembling it: “Here, Megan. None of this makes sense right now, but just keep working on it. It will come together in the end, no matter how frustrated and defeated you feel. Just keep putting the pieces together.” So I did. I like the bigger picture that I ended up with.

For someone who has said many permanent goodbyes, a fair share of them not on good terms, I’m sorry to say, you would think that I’d be used to it by now. Some things, I think, you never get used to. The best you can do is cope, until time takes some of the pain away. While I have a plan to return to Israel in the fall, plenty of obstacles remain in my way, most of them financial, so it’s difficult to believe myself when I say, “yihyeh besder.” I like to think that some of that Israeli nonchalance has rubbed off on me. Instead, the Israeli impatience seems to have stuck the most, which isn’t surprising, given my own natural tendency to be incapable of just relaxing and taking things as they come.

So how do we do it? How do we say goodbye before we’re ready, deal with transition and uncertainty, let go when we don’t want to and somehow remember to be present and to enjoy the things that we’ve got going for us right now? It’s a challenge. Right now I’m just having trouble resisting the urge to say “todah” instead of “thank you,” “shalom” instead of “hello,” and “slicha,” instead of “excuse me.” But never the less, I propose the following to other sad souls such as myself who are also mourning the end of their time in Israel and all the things that are suddenly missing from day to day life, whatever our future plans might be. Hopefully it helps, and hopefully, I can take my own advice.

1. On Goodbyes:
Everybody hates them. They’re one of the most difficult and sad facts of life. Perhaps there’s someone very near and dear to you, someone who has made your life better in some way by being in it, someone who you’ve gotten used to not being too far away from, their physical presence comforting. After the goodbye, you feel a piece of you tear away, and the sudden lack of their presence is glaringly noticeable. It’s easy to think that there’s a void in your life now where that person used to be, but really, you’re just missing them. It’s normal. There isn’t really a gaping hole right in the middle of your soul. People can’t (or shouldn’t) fill voids for you, because for one, that’s an awful lot of unfair pressure to put on someone just so they can meet your needs, and two, people always go away. It’s inevitable–you are a completely separate entity with your own life to live. They’ve got their path, you’ve got yours. Some goodbyes aren’t permanent, but rather, more of a “see you later,” really. You usually know when those goodbyes happen. Those people make the effort to walk back into your life again someday, if even for a visit. And the goodbyes that are forever? You learn to live without people, because human beings are adaptable creatures. We can suffer a tremendous amount of loss, and still live life, even happily.

Saying goodbye to a place can be just as hard, especially to a place like Israel, and even more so, a place like Jerusalem. The significance of it in many people’s lives, certainly in mine, is massive. It’s like saying goodbye to a person, a loved one, or a cherished lover that you don’t want to let go of. But you’re not Israel’s only lover, and she’s collected many lovestruck Jews who have found home in her embrace. A goodbye to Israel definitely does not have to be for good. She’ll be there, waiting for you, for however long it takes to be reunited.

2. On Transition and Uncertainty:
Welcome to life, where nothing is guaranteed except that it will eventually end. Sure, many people do settle down and live stable lives, but life is still full of transition and it cycles through different stages. And most things are uncertain. How dull would it be if they weren’t? Wouldn’t you rather feel anticipation than be bored to tears with predictability? I know I complain and agonize far too much about living in constant flux and uncertainty of how it will all turn out. But what I wouldn’t want, what I wouldn’t enjoy at all, would be knowing what happens before it happens. You know how people get pissed off when someone gives away the ending of a book or movie? That’s because you want to experience it for yourself. Yes, there’s the journey along the way, but we want to experience the whole story. And as we all know, the best stories are filled with action, drama, character development, and a good plot. You can’t make a story without the tension of transition and uncertainty…not a good one, anyway.

3. On Letting Go:
This one…this one is the worst for me. When I find something that makes me happy or content, I don’t want to let go of it for fear that I’ll never get it back. When you’re attached to things and people without an existential infrastructure in your life, letting go can be a huge blow to your happiness and well-being. This goes hand in hand with the goodbye, but it’s deeper than that. It requires you to not be consumed with missing that which you had to say goodbye to. It requires you to be able to be okay with the goodbye. This is difficult, because there’s also a catch: you have to train yourself to let go. Sometimes, you cling and hang on as a reflex. You can even recognize that you need to let go, and you want to, but you simply do not know how. It’s tricky, but it can be done. Which brings me to the next issue.

4. On Being Present:
Dwelling in the past and yearning for the way things were before the tearful goodbyes and dreaming of a hopeful future where you are reunited with all the things that you’re missing is an easy trap to fall into. It’s not the same as fondly reminiscing, or indulging in a healthy dose of fantasy. Rather, it’s miserable, and very counterproductive, trapping you in an endless loop of torturing yourself over the way things aren’t at the current moment. To escape this hell, keeping yourself busy and occupied is worthwhile. Yep, that’s right; distract yourself. Eventually, you’ll realize that your life isn’t so bad, and you can live it anywhere you find yourself, and with lots of people who show up in it. If you’re successful, letting go should come next, because dwelling is a massive part of what makes it so hard to let go. Believe me, I know; I struggle with this constantly.

I want to lose myself in Jerusalem again, and only several days have passed since my departure. The goodbyes still sting, the uncertainty and transitions are consuming my every thought, I’m still attempting to loosen my grip on all the things I don’t want to let go of, and I’m anywhere but present. It’s a good thing that so few things in life are permanent and unchangeable, otherwise, I’d be really depressed right now. Instead, I’ll just keep saying, “yihyeh beseder” each day, and before I know it, it will be. In fact, it already is. I just need to allow my heart to catch up to my head so I can feel it and think it at the same time.