Things are going VERY well. We have secured the Shabbat RV 2.0. We survived Passover and even enjoyed it. I’m still sick with some kind of cold/flu, but I’m on the mend. We’re even preparing for a weekend trip down to sunny WARM Florida to visit family. I have no reason to feel the way I’m feeling.
And yet, that’s kind of how it works. Doubt never comes when you’re braced against it, defenses up. It sneaks in through a crack when your guard is down. It’s the things you don’t expect and can’t really prepare for, small things that happen in passing, but stick into your mind like a tiny sliver, a splinter that embeds itself. Then, the mind, doing what it does best, picks at the splinter, making it sorer and more swollen.
This time, it was two unrelated things that came together yesterday to kind of knock me a little off balance. One, is selling my motorcycle. I haven’t ridden it since last summer, but it is a beautiful bike, with paint a blue that depending on the light, can look more blue or green. It’s sure-footed and fast and when I would ride it, I would feel something like a superhero. When you ride a motorcycle, it’s more like riding a horse than driving. You become one with the machine and it’s just you and the wind. I would play with the wind as it tried to pry me off my steel steed, the highway falling away beneath me, just me and the mountains and the smell of fresh rain in the trees. That motorcycle is wild, untamed freedom.
Last summer, I tried to find ways to justify keeping it, ways maybe I could make it tznius? Maybe I could squeeze that bike into a kosher life? Surely G-d wouldn’t give me such a gift of that experience of joy and freedom and then mean for me to turn away from it. I also have always fought physical issues with riding. I’m a smaller woman and my iron horse is a heavy one. I’m also short and it’s a stretch to ride any motorcycle. I spent all of last summer riding less and less and feeling more and more like I shouldn’t be, that it wasn’t worth the risks. Motorcycles, like horses, need to be ridden and it’s clearly time to let her go to someone who will take her on new adventures. My path lies down another trail.
Against this backdrop of me wrestling with creating the ad for my motorcycle, a friend who also rides occasionally, who in fact I taught how to ride, stopped by to visit with her son. As I greeted her at the door, she made an offhand comment at how I was dressed. I know her well enough that she didn’t mean anything mean about it, but afterwards, I looked at myself in the mirror, hair covered, my tattoos from my youth covered, and it’s as if I saw myself the way my family back on the farm might or how someone who never knew me religious might. Was I making a fool of myself? Would people ever finally accept me as a frum Jew? As a biker, I’d found acceptance, but never really peace except when I was riding. I had felt like I’d needed to edit parts of myself out, the parts that really felt Jewish and religious. I couldn’t exactly compare an amazing ride to Torah and expect anyone to understand. As a religious Jew, or at least someone who really wants to be a religious Jew, I’d always found peace but not acceptance.
Individually, I’d been accepted by my last community. I’d been in the women’s knitting group and the Shabbos afternoon bananagrams game. We’d been invited to Shabbos meals. We were so close. And yet, we’d be left out of other things because of our halakhic status, never knowing if or when we’d finally be accepted or even what we needed to do to progress on that path to acceptance.
Am I merely setting myself up for more heartache, to sit just outside looking in? Even worse, will my children again spend year after year sitting on the outside looking in?
When we had thought last time around that all hope had been lost, we had returned to the waiting arms of the motorcycle community. United by a common love of riding, there really isn’t much else that you need to do to qualify for membership. If you can ride and enjoy it, you’re welcome. However, there’s also a lack of depth there. It’s freedom without the support of the structure that Torah provides. It’s acceptance, but acceptance to a community of people who mostly feel that they can’t fit in anywhere else. Riding becomes something to fill the emptiness or to distract from whatever you’re really longing for.
For me, that longing was still to be fully Jewish and no matter how fast or far I rode, even all the way into the wilds of Alaska, where I thought nothing would remind me of Judaism, I couldn’t escape it. G-d’s creation surrounded me, reminding me.
That doubt, though, also remains. What if I’m not good enough? What if the Rabbis look at me and decide…I’m too far gone in this life, too damaged? What makes me think they could think I’m worthy of being part of their tribe?
I know I’m a good rider. I can pop the clutch on that bike and it will obey me and I can outride most men. The real trick is that you can’t be afraid of getting hurt. If you ride with fear, you’ll never relax and relaxing into the bike is the most important thing to do to be safe. You have to trust yourself and the bike that it will do what you tell it to and let go of watching the pavement. Rule #1 of riding a motorcycle…whatever you are focused on is exactly where the bike will go. If you’re focused on the guard rail, an oncoming car, or even just the pavement you will run right into whatever you’re looking to avoid.
Today, G-d, I’m so afraid of getting hurt again or of those I love getting hurt again that it’s hard to ride down this path you’ve set for us. But, just like I used to do when I was tired and sore from riding all day in the rain, I’m going to just hunker down here and keep my eyes ahead of me and trust that you’ll take us safely down the road.