Watching the news one night, my husband raised the feminist flag. Four women awkwardly crossed their bare legs on the couch. One man, his legs spread wide to accommodate his shrinking masculinity, sat in the center. On our side of the screen, my husband squirmed and called it out. And I rolled my eyes.
We talked about it. He blamed his background and thanked me for helping him see the reality but didn’t appreciate that I don’t allow him into the conversation. I said I spent too many lonely years screaming to now pat him on the back when he sees misogyny. I’d rather he fight where it makes a difference, calling men out when they say that stupid joke or comment or gesture from an upright position as it happens, not as casual commentary when we’re alone.
We didn’t do a good job validating each other and went to bed upset.
The painful conversation the next morning covered my loneliness and the fact that for years I was convinced I would lose him.
I knew he had to find his way on his own but I didn’t know if it would end up at my side. He explored every aspect of Judaism; the cracks and corners where the grey turns vibrant and the black and white pages of his youth. When the walls caved in and he saw his truth, I stood next to him while he found his footing. When he did, it was solid and purposeful. And he walked ahead, leaving me where I had been waiting, exploring a world of ideas that excited him and broadened his mind in a way that overwhelmed me.
I was still lonely.
We cried, and we talked, and we promised to find a blank page we could write in together.
Then, because he was searching for something to help understand me better, he found a path that led straight to my open wounds.
Our relationship is not strengthened by what we have been through together. Those experiences, the cycles of life and love, have shaped who we are as people. What draws the outline of who we are together are the things we overcame as we circled around each other desperately trying to wrap our arms tight around the individual experiences the other had without us, soothing the loneliness we carry in our hearts.
This is how the love of my life discovered the crater between us and, without bothering to build a bridge, leaped over to my side and made us more than we ever were.
* * *
The panel is comprised of Orthodox women actively fighting the status quo. They are strong and intelligent and hell-bent on being heard. They talk about women disappearing and how it is not their Torah. They speak of holiness and femininity and their right to learn and teach and participate in the halachic discussion.
Then they open the floor to questions.
“How do you explain the halacha that states when a man and woman are drowning, you must save the man first?”
There is a moment where I, sitting on the other end of the couch reading about the different ways humanity is working to abolish hatred from the world we share, raise my head in mild hope to hear what wisdom the women my husband is trying to learn from can possibly have that I have not heard before.
I’ve learned to lower my expectations so I’m not that disappointed when the answers fall where they have always gathered, exposed on the ground shamefully.
But his eyes are widening and he is turning to me in shock. He can’t believe the way they have walked around the question, claiming to have accepted the bad with the good because it was different then. He can’t believe they dismiss the inconsistencies and ignore the way their bad answers leave more questions in their wake. He is bothered by it, bothered by my eyes rolling up in response because these, and more sophisticated pacifistic answers I have spent my life combating, are just a drop in the vast bucket of inadequacies I have been made to feel as a woman made from the ribs of a man.
He is racing through it all now; hearing the ways I have been explained since I realized my vagina made me less than. He is learning the tones and nuances of words falling flat against an ever-expanding sense of worthlessness. He is walking in the imprints my shoes made as I wandered around and around in my loneliness and he is gutted by the pain I never could describe.
“I didn’t know,” he says. “I mean, you told me…but I didn’t really get it. I never heard these words said these ways…I never looked and looked and couldn’t find a way to make it feel right…I never walked a second in your path, and I didn’t know how lonely you were.”
I thank him. He is sorry it is so late.
But I am grateful because he gets it.
“I can’t even begin to explain how much it means to me that I am valued to you, not only as your friend and partner but as a woman who faced this alone my whole life.”
I pause as I think of the weight we carry when we walk along our destiny.
“To have you take my hand and stand with me makes it all feel a little lighter.”
I remember how years ago, I stood at a crossroad and watched him walk down a path that didn’t suit me. Watching him disappear, I wrote.
I walk the lonely road…
and as I wander…
I believe…I doubt…I question…I yearn…I want.
He walks…on a different road…
twisting and turning in ways I don’t always understand…
with a belief…a doubt…a question…a yearning…a want…so different from mine.
Sometimes we meet…at a fork in the road.
He goes right…I go left…
our eyes drawn back towards the place we knew together…
as our souls move over rocky paths…smooth sand…and raging rivers.
We can be this lonely…because we are together…and we are together…because we are this lonely.
And I smile because there is a place in my little corner of the universe where I have finally been given the strength to fly farther than that road ever could have taken me.