The following is part of the Hevria series “Truth And Dare”, in which Hevria writers have pushed themselves to write about topics they find uncomfortable to share publicly.
Honestly, I just want to eat. My appetite has been vying for my attention over the rumbles of singing and banging on tables. I end up breaking my vegetarianism at this year’s Purim seudah on some fleishig (meat) lasagna, because “v’nahafoch hu” (on Purim, things are “reversed”); and besides, I’m basically the equivalent of “kosher style” in my vegetarian observance in the first place. I whisper a mental apology to my dad, since I know he was vegetarian back in the day. Who knows if he would be still? Who knows if he would be disappointed by my quasi-transgression? I think he would just be happy I’m happy.
It’s Purim and everything is upside down the way it’s supposed to be. My dvar torah– recited standing on a chair I thought I would topple off- has been interrupted with more outbursts of song than a Broadway musical; every time I say the word “simcha,” (happiness) my friends break into “ivdu et Hashem b’simcha” (“serve G-d in happiness”), or “mi’shenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha” (“when Adar begins, happiness increases”). Every time I say “Jews,” my personal chorus breaks into “la’Yehudim haita orah v’simcha…” (“the Jews had light and happiness”). Each time I smile, the warm Bartenura in my veins squeezes my insides like the blood pressure monitor at the doctor’s office. And something unseen tugs at the hem of my dress and pokes at the edges of my mind and soul and I try to catch my balance.
By the end of the meal, I am beyond satiated, my insides saturated with redskin potatoes and sentimentality. I am twirling around my friend’s kitchen, holding hands and brushing limbs with other spirited girls. And I cannot explain why I am thinking so much about my dad in that glossy moment.
It’s not so much that I am thinking about him, not in the detached, theorizing way the act of thought usually means. More that I am aware of his presence next to me, surrounding me as I dance and roll to the floor clumsily. And it’s not so much any one thought or feeling in particular; it’s just a very, very palpable there-ness.
I hesitate to attach much significance to this kind of emotional pulsation, beating through me in this tipsy state. But still, it would be easier to dismiss this kind of sensation if I didn’t have a handful of other recent, random moments where engaging with my spirituality, my joy, my me-ness, elicited my dad’s invisible presence like a Pavlovian response. When I tap into the parts of me that embody my spirit most fully and truly, he seems to come along for the ride, peeking curiously into my world.
And mostly, it feels invasive, like an unwelcome observer glancing over my shoulder. It feels burdensome, like his looming presence- or absence, really- weighs down every memory, every silly childhood story I want to share casually. My dad’s him-ness weighs down my lightness, obstructs the brightness of my radiance with his giant shadow. It’s like he has to upstage my thoughts as compensation for being stuck in a life of living backstage. And I don’t want to resent him for it, but he’s making it damn hard.
But this Purim, as I’m spinning, there’s a new kind of stillness to his clunking footsteps. The dvar Torah I shared was about the idea of Purim transcending the dichotomies in which we normally function- good and evil, joy and sadness, presence and absence. The mantra of Purim, “ad d’lo yada,” (“until one does not know”) typically refers to the customary, celebratory rounds of drinking; but at its core, this phrase questions and uproots our usual reliance on “knowledge” as an absolute and static thing. Underlying the uproarious festivities is a willingness to dwell in limbo, in the good, bad, and ugly. To swath ourselves in the comforts of chaos.
And it is here that I can let my dad’s present absence in. Where I can let him hold my hand, knowing he is with me in my ecstasy and my struggle, and that nothing makes any sense and everything is in its place in this moment, and that I am spinning and so perfectly still. That I am forever two years old, my memories and my notion of selfhood falling into a timeline marked with “AD: After Daddy”, or the more palatable “when we moved back to Detroit” (circa 1996). That in a few days, I will turn twenty-one, and be more than ten times the person my living father got to see me become.
Daddy, look at me- it’s me, Elizabeth- I’m learning so much and surrounded by love. I’m growing so much and my hair looks so vibrant in the sun. Daddy, come join me in this in-betweenness and dance with me in the nauseating, energizing spins I’m making around the room. Come watch me in this space of “neither here nor there” and let me tell you I love you no matter how much or little I understand that love. It’s too real to deny. Come join me; you’re right here anyway.
I keep thinking about you and the way you make me think about you the way
you let yourself into my mind like you picked the lock into my consciousness
so let me extend an invitation to you
to sit with me, to make a l’chaim-”to life”- to being present
to the way you live on in a way that makes no sense whatsoever but just IS
you just ARE so big so extremely loud and incredibly close and so palpable
to us sitting here together
to you seeing me
in my simcha and in my pain and in my confusion
if simcha is presence, is oneness, then that’s what it’s all about
how my tears of joy and of longing are all one
and how you are contained in each drop in a way
that cannot be compartmentalized
let’s sway in simcha
and dance with whatever the hell is going on right now
i love you