I am not a patient person by nature. Even at a young age, I was gifted with a strong will to push forward. The characters in books and movies I admired were adventurers who pressed forward, not people who patiently waited for their fates to find them. As a daughter of midwestern farmers, sprouted from an almost puritanical value of hard work as a virtue, patience wasn’t anything I spent much time cultivating.
If there is one thing that I have learned, often the hard way, through Orthodox Jewish conversion, it’s the value of patience.
There was a very visceral lesson in patience this week as we faced another summertime fast. Fasts in the summer in Alaska are epically long due to the long days. Since, for Tishah B’Av, Orthodox Jews fast from sundown to sundown the next day, that meant that yesterday was another really long fast and due to the ages of the kids and my husband’s diabetes, I found myself the only one in the family fasting past mid-day.
There is no rushing hours. They come and go in their own time.
For me, fasting almost seems to make time slow down or suspend itself. My mind slows with it and I exist in a different state. It’s only today, when my mind again has everything it needs to think rather than just feel, that I realize that it’s similar to the conversion process. “A few months” rarely means what it conventionally means and a conversion year is rarely only a year long.
We had another meeting with our Rabbi earlier this week and it was a positive one, a good one, but I did notice how I tend to translate what I’m told through a different, more patient filter now. I no longer expect timelines to be clear or accurate. I understand that conversion time is it’s own separate calendar, neither lunar nor solar, but following a pace of its own. Just like there is no way to push the clock along on a fast day, I’ve learned that there really isn’t a way to push the conversion clock along, either. You simply have to find a way to wait that is as comfortable as you can make it. Wishing you could make things occur according to standard time only makes the process more difficult and painful.
It’s also taught me another kind of patience, the patience it takes to realize that yes, you’re going to have to make the same phone call several times before it is noticed. Rabbis will be late or forget meetings. Paperwork will be lost. Your name will be forgotten more times than it is remembered. It does no good to get frustrated and in fact, if you let it get you too down, it will only slow things. I just set reminders to make those phone calls again, patiently but persistently reminding. I simply repeat my name as many times as is needed. I quietly remind and reschedule appointments as needed. I re-read the book I’ve already read at the next recommendation to read it. Whether it’s intentional or not is hard to see, but these little things in the process are like sand, irritating, but also serving to rub away the rough edges.
Conversion is also great at busting an overabundant ego.
A conversion candidate usually learns quickly that for most Rabbis…we are the lowest priority. There are logical reasons for this and I don’t blame the Rabbis for it. After all, we don’t *need* to convert and there are plenty of other real needs that a Rabbi has to attend to. However, outside of the logic, it can be a humbling experience to realize you are the least, particularly if you’re used to being someone important in other parts of your life. I’ve found that it’s had a positive impact in how I handle other situations where I find myself being treated as less than important. Instead of rushing to be offended or hurt, I stop and consider what else might be going on and even question whether it’s really important that I be treated as an equal to others, even. Often, whatever bruises my ego is suffering are not really real, but a product of how I’m choosing to view the situation or my own perception of how a situation *should* be rather than just accepting it as it is. It reminds me of being a child again, where you’re simply not going to be treated the same as the adults at the table and how that can sometimes chafe at an older child’s feelings, but it still doesn’t change the fact that one person is an adult and the other a child and it’s impossible to make those awkward years go any faster.
Yesterday, as I lay, somewhere between sleep and consciousness, I was aware of choosing to not resist the fast. I remember thinking that it would do no good to keep focusing on the end of the fast and that such a focus would only prolong the hours. I kept my focus on each moment and the time actually went by pretty well and I was pleasantly surprised when 10:37pm came and the fast ended.
Similarly, I’ve learned to no longer resist the pace of conversion. It simply takes as long as it takes and while I can focus on each moment and what I can do during it, the biggest part of all this is far outside my ability to influence or control any more than those hours of fasting on the clock were within my power to hurry along.
So now, back in my right mind, I make my weekly phone calls and emails and I dutifully do anything I’m given to do, but beyond that? I no longer find myself buffeted by changes of the direction of the wind after every meeting with a Rabbi. I no longer try to read anything into his words beyond the practical and immediate. I leave this process and its pace in the hands of Hashem and when I do feel the frustration of a child waiting to be an adult, I pour that into my davening.
Only He can control time itself.