I used to be a big U2 fan. I’ll freely admit that as a child of the 80’s, I was listening to U2 well into the 90’s. One of their songs that always stuck with me was the song, “Walk On,” particularly the lyrics about “all that you can’t leave behind” and the idea of packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been. Being a band of Irish Catholics, I have to assume the journey they were talking about, where they were packing for a “place that has to be believed to be seen,” was their version of the afterlife. That being the case, the song still resonates for me in a different way, particularly this time of year and this year in particular.
We all have places we’re trying to get to, either metaphorically or physically and we all have stuff that holds us back from those journeys. It may be the marathon we’ve always dreamed of running but never can seem to carve out the time to train for. It may be the song we’ve always wanted to sing, but are afraid of making a fool of ourselves. It could be a career move we’re afraid of making, a business we keep putting off starting, a relationship we can’t seem to commit to. It could even literally be a big move, like making aliyah to Israel or even just moving out of our parents’ house. It could be finally admitting to those we love who we really are.
All of us have stood at a crossroads and gazed longingly down that road less traveled and far too many of us have then looked at all we’re carrying, all that’s holding us back from that road and then turned back to the well-tread path.
There are always good, comfortable reasons not to take big risks.
Passover is a season of celebrating the courage of casting off all that holds us back and leaving the familiar for the extraordinary. The Jews left the certainty of the lives they’d known for an uncertain future in the desert, trusting in Hashem and that there was something better for them out there. They had to let go of everything they’d known before and all the adaptations that had helped them survive slavery. They could only take what they could carry and they could only move forward once they were prepared to leave everything behind.
It really does us little good to rid our homes of chametz if we’re still allowing ourselves to be held back from being the people we were meant to be by a car payment we shouldn’t have taken on, a fear of failure, or worries about what others think we should do or be.
Last night, I had a crisis of faith over the silliest thing. I was sitting, taking a break from Passover cleaning when it struck me that we didn’t get the kids to see the northern lights. Living in Anchorage where there is so much light pollution, it’s tough to see them and this winter one of our goals was to get outside of Anchorage and make sure the kids saw them before we left Alaska. Doubt came tumbling down on my head like fully packed suitcases stuffed up into a closet will fall down on the first person who opens the door.
Were we making a huge mistake moving? Would the kids hate us for taking us away from Alaska?
I think the cleaning products might have gotten to my head because this morning, these fears seem silly, but last night, they were pressing. What if the kids never see the Aurora Borealis?! What kind of mother am I if I didn’t make sure they saw that?! My kids also never went out on a sailboat when we were in Florida, never went fishing for marlin, never went snorkeling, etc, but for some reason, I felt this heavy guilt descend on me over the northern lights, nevermind that I myself have only seen them once or twice. Nevermind that the kids could conceivably go on a trip just to see the northern lights one day if they’re so inclined.
It would be easier to stay in Alaska. We wouldn’t have to sell our home, which is proving tougher than our realtor imagined. We wouldn’t have to start over someplace new. I wouldn’t have to manage working remote. We could keep all our stuff and the kids could stay with the friends they know. Still, staying here would mean that we wouldn’t be able to complete our conversions and observance would remain a difficult uphill battle every year. The well trodden path that direction goes uphill, both ways, through the snow. The path out is a huge leap off a cliff, but there’s a nice flat plateau down there once we land.
Some journeys require that we leave everything behind except that which we can’t.
This journey is one of those. As we sift through our stuff another time, it becomes more, “What can we absolutely not do without or replace?” Only that makes the cut. Similarly, though, we still have to keep sifting through our own hearts and minds, too. To become the people we’re meant to be means leaving behind fears, grudges, bad habits, limiting mindsets. It’s a process of constantly decluttering what I carry around in my head and my heart. It means facing my own fears of whether or not we’ll fit in where we land, whether or not the kids will do well in Day School, whether or not we’ll be happy in a landscape a little more ordinary.
When a conversion candidate prepares for the mikvah, it’s important to remove every barrier from the water. You scrub under your fingernails and trim them short, detangle all your hair, remove your contacts, even brush and floss your teeth very carefully. The idea is that there should be as little as possible separating you from the waters and, in fact, an immersion can be rendered invalid if there was too much of a barrier. In a similar way, I feel like this process of moving is one of stripping off the layers of what has built up between us and Hashem, both materially and spiritually.
Bare and naked of our possessions, left with only that which we can’t leave behind, we’ll take our first steps into a new life, unsure of what awaits, but trusting and hopeful that when we emerge, it will be to a world that is warm and welcoming and that embraces us.