In the Mishebeirakh, the Jewish prayer for healing, we ask for Refuat haNefesh u'Refuat haGuf. Healing of spirit and body. Yet how can we ask for this when we know the body will not heal? Isn't this a pointless prayer? I teach, regarding the Hebrew, that it can legitimately be read as healing of spirit OR body. Thus, when one is dying, we are saying that only the spirit will heal; the body will not.
In both cases, we are in the path to spiritual healing, so I can, in a way, celebrate when she passes away, because she will not be suffering any more. Yet I am profoundly sad, as might be expected by many.
I know with certainty that I must keep living, despite my mother’s actively dying. For me, part of living is learning. I have found that I am voraciously reading books about gender, and their connections with psychology, religion, etc. As a rabbi the intersection of religion and being trans is vitally important. Rabbis are expected to be scholarly, and so I keep learning. Interestingly, I have found that I am really enjoying this type of learning now. Previously I did not like reading liberal arts texts; so that is definitely another transition for me.
Regarding intersectionality, I share another commonality with my mother. We both suffer debilitating pain from degenerative spinal condition; mine is cervical while hers is lumbar, yet the process is similar.
When we are dealing with the intersectionality of multiple issues, things tend to get very interesting. My mother was forced to retire from teaching because of disability, and I was forced to retire, far too young, from professional rabbinate, due to disability. My disability has had a number of negative impacts on my life, and it actually impacts on my transition as well.
The intersection of multiple demographic categories is subject to large amounts of study these days. I am profoundly fortunate that I am white and financially stable with healthcare benefits. Further, none of my social or physical disabilities are obviously visible. So I “pass” in society as “normal” even if I am anything but. I don’t suffer most of the problems that other trans people suffer, due to economics, employment, family status, etc.
So, do I have the right to be sad, given all of this, or should I be happy? If I take out the factors related to my physical disability and my mother’s status, I am happy. But of course I can’t ignore the realities of my life.
In the morning blessings, according to the Conservative Jewish practice, we thank God for making us in God’s image. In the Orthodox rite, there are two forms of the blessing - for men and for women. The women’s blessing thanks God for making us according to God’s will. Both are very important to all people who are trans, however they define that.
We can’t know why we are made to suffer in our lives, whether it be physical or emotional health, unemployment, war, etc. What we do know, however, is that we are commanded to live, and live we must. We find ways to transcend the suffering, or we stop living.
God has a huge spectrum of characteristics. We are told in Genesis 1:27, twice, that we are created in God’s image, so we also have a large spectrum of characteristics. Some of our spectrum of identity surrounds our pain and suffering. When reading Bible and theological writing, we see, through Anthropomorphisms, that God suffers as well. This is one of the myriad Divine characteristics, and of the human state.
Regarding being made according to God’s will; many will say we are perverting God’s will in our creation, by being trans. To the contrary, we are actually fulfilling God’s will. So, for anyone who identifies as trans, the blessing of making us according to God’s will and/or God’s image is hugely powerful and relevant.
Circling back to the process of my mother’s dying, that is also God’s will. I can’t say when she will die, nor can any of my family, her medical team, etc. We know that we all will die, just not when. But this is a transition, regardless.
I have come to realize, recently, that I want to try and transcend my physical suffering as well. There are far too many amazing things in life to do. So I am taking steps to deal with some of my pain syndromes. Hopefully, I can find some relief.
Living isn’t just breathing and having a heartbeat. Living means to fully engage with life in every way we can. I am looking forward to experiencing many new things in my life, as Rona; many of which I never would have even considered prior to transitioning. So; whatever your life’s situation, find ways to enjoy, to explore, to learn, to experience… TO LIVE!
לחיים - TO LIFE!