I’m coming up on 6 months at my new job. Can I call it new anymore? A very good six months, with the normal complaints, normal good things. All in all, it’s a very normal 9-5 desk job, that I happen to like quite a bit (if you ask me at the right time). I recently started training my first new employee. It’s a little tough because it takes a chunk out of my day, but it indulges my most teacherly of tendencies and while I might seem a little friendly or overbearing, it’s just because I’m excited to, you know, impart what I’ve learned. I’m slowly but surely becoming more webby and editor-like and while I have my slip ups, I think I am giving my best effort to get at the skills that drive online publishing and how I can be a savvy web diva in the future.
A thought I’ve been turning to a lot lately, at work, adjusting to living in the city (again), thinking about my former fun in France, thinking about the future is….how I can approach things according to improv comedy’s number one rule: Just say yes. Really, it’s just say “yes, and”…meaning, what can I add to the conversation? Before I started at my new job, I was alone, in the company of small children or with family most of the time. I wasn’t really mixing or mingling or being exposed to new attitudes, new situations, etc…for better or for worse. Working, moving and life in general lately has made me more observant, moreso than when I was babysitting in the burbs. I don’t really know why this keeps popping up in my little Frenchified brain, but I like it. Just say yes (and no to drugs). I guess it’s another way of saying, “be open to stuff”. Which sounds silly. But I feel like I kind of was a turtle who hung out in her shell for a while, licking some funny wounds. In some ways I still feel tepid about certain things, but I feel like I’m at least trying to be more active and more interested in developing my career, my life, my friendships, everything, blah blah where as last year I didn’t really know which end was up. Everything takes time, but every day is another opportunity to say yes. To what, eh, I don’t know. Little things. It’s always the little things.
Looking in the mirror, I almost didn’t recognize myself. Dressed in a black skirt down to my ankles and a long-sleeve black shirt, just a little light blush on my cheeks, I was definitely sporting a new look. I felt subdued, perhaps even a little out of uniform without my usual skinny jeans and fall sweater. I don’t often go to synagogue, but today I was making my first-ever outing to a Modern Orthodox shul with my French hosts. Looking into the mirror once again, I tried on my most devout expression.
“You look beautiful!” Mrs B. exclaimed as I gingerly walked down the stairwell. I was wearing her outfit, of course, and it didn’t fit badly at all. I put on my coat and off we went. The streets were quiet on a Saturday morning, most of the people in town taking it easy. I trailed behind Mr. and Mrs. B and their two sons. It was a very rainy morning and I walked carefully as we wandered down one of the main drags in the city. I felt strangely self-conscious. During my time in France, I’d very rarely, if ever, seen religious Jews walking to shul on a Saturday morning. But there I was, part of this fray, feeling even more foreign in this already foreign land. We approached a heavy wooden door, Mr. B. entered a code and we all slowly slipped inside.
Where we entered was a small building, moderately lit, and already filled with chatter and prayer. Mr. and Mrs. B. greeted all of their friends with the “bisou,” the customary French greeting. Wisely, I kept to myself, waiting to be introduced to the others at shul. I folded my hands in my lap as Mrs. B. and I took our place at the back of the synagogue, behind the small partition dividing the men and the women.
I wondered if the service would be led in French, but the elderly rabbi led his congregation entirely in Hebrew. We arrived near the end of the service. As I stood up to say the “Aleinu,” reciting from memory words I’d spoken many times before at services in the Chicago burbs, I felt a comforting wave of familiarity. In my day-to-day life in France, I’d been working so hard to make friends, make myself understandable to the French, to navigate tasks that took no thought in English, but now required immense concentration in French. There were times I questioned if I would ever feel welcome, if I would ever feel truly understood. As I recited the prayers with the same fluency of the women sitting around me, I felt competent and I felt, for that brief moment, completely un-foreign.
The members of the shul filtered into a little room filled with tables for a Shabbat feast. I dutifully took my seat next to my host mother. I gleefully played the role of “American Girl,” answering everyone’s questions, smiling brightly, gesturing wildly, my apple cheeks turning rosy when I wasn’t sure if I’d heard so-and-so correctly. There were many girls joining their parents, but not nearly as many boys. I turned to Malka, the girl sitting next to me, I told her she shared a name with my grandmother and that quickly got us chatting. I asked where all the boys were, to which she replied, “oh, they’re all away at yeshiva at the next big town over.”
After a robust afternoon of chatting and eating, or in my case, being told to “eat more!” the B. family gathered themselves and headed toward the door. “Yalla!” I called, as I saw my host brother dawdling. My host father looked at me and laughed. On the walk home, my host mother asked what I thought. “I liked it,” I remarked. I was tired, I didn’t have much more to say. Compared to my everyday life in Chicago, going to a modern Orthodox shul was one of the most different experiences I’ve encountered living abroad. It took me outside of my comfort zone and showed me a world I know about, but very rarely see and experience. I was never once pressed about my “sort” of Judaism, whether I was reform or conservative; I was never asked how I practice or how often I pray. They extended an invite simply because I am a Jew, and it was Shabbat. And that small gesture made me feel quite at home.
This day two years ago, I moved to France. I’ve been back for quite some time and it’s been a year (or so) of ups, downs and everything in between. Most Saturdays in Grenoble, I would wake up early and take a long walk along the river and a little uphill. It cleared my head, it was beautiful, it gave me an opportunity to explore more of the country I love so fearlessly. Today, I walked back from a cafe in River North along the Chicago River. It a was postcard-perfect moment. With the buildings surrounding me like mountains, I had this strange feeling wash over me. I have my river, I have my scenery, I have my friends, I have my family, I am so, so happy. Just a thought, sappy and sentimental. But after a year of longing for the Isere, I didn’t have to travel very far to find something like it, to find something that evokes the same feelings when I stand beside it.
So, at Lululemon in Lincoln Park, there’s this funny promotion-ish thing to write your BHAG (Big Hairy Obnoxious Goal) on an arrow that they will proceed to hang around the store. I wrote that by 9/15/2013, I want to write a novel. It seems silly, but I want to stick to it. Maybe I can do it? We’ll see.
I moved downtown. It’s been in the works for a while (that sounds silly), but I moved to the Loop. It’s not neighborhoody, but it’s so nice in it’s own way. Looking forward to city life…while it’s been fun the burbs, I’m ready for a change. I hope!