Last weekend, I went to the Temple B’nai Temple Sisterhood Retreat at Camp Brotherhood in Mount Vernon. I debated for weeks about attending, reasoning I knew only one person – Shana Aucsmith, the first vice-president on the temple’s board of directors. A few weeks before the event, however, following a performance at the synagogue by Vagabond Opera, I walked into the Judaic Shop.
While browsing the shelves, and wondering whether I should buy Rich his own Hanukah menorah so I wouldn’t be competing with him to light the candles on mine, I was unexpectedly inspired to ask the women in the shop about the retreat. I had no idea whether they’d ever attended, let alone knew about it.
I can still visualize, Norma, who I later met at the retreat, smiling and explaining it’s an amazing experience and I should go. I was intrigued by Norma. Her bright smile, laughter, and cool earrings. I also noticed her cane, and sensed she may have difficulties walking long distances.
Learning from Norma that around fifty women would be attending the retreat, I concluded I could easily hide if I didn’t feel comfortable spending a weekend with women I didn’t know.
On Friday, I started to wonder why I’d signed up to attend the retreat. The weather was going to be splendid and I felt an obligation to help Rich set up our raised vegetable beds in Mount Vernon. Plus, Rich is my rock and anchor. He makes me strong and keeps me focused on what I need to achieve. Without him, I’m lost, aimlessly drifting through life, doing what’s necessary without any direction.
Before I married Rich, I lived day-to-day, convinced my life was little more than going to work, occasionally going to social events, and catering to my mother’s perpetual needs. I had many acquaintances, but few friends, having consumed decades of weekends doing what my mother wanted instead of creating a life for myself.
To a certain extent, I’m in the same mindset so when Rich dropped me off at Camp Brotherhood, late Friday afternoon, my overriding aim was simply, “get through the day.”
After getting my packet, with the key to my room, I quickly dropped off my bag, and raced down to the see the farm animals; it was less intimidating than going into the dining hall and introducing myself to others at the retreat. As expected, I was enraptured with the animals: Four curious emus that grabbed at my rings, several bossy geese, dozen or so cows including calves, several sheep and two alpacas that had no interest in interacting with a human, three miniatures horses, one mule, and a magnificent ivory-colored angora goat who welcomed being caressed. And at one end of the pen where the emus were kept was a box of bright blue-green eggs.
After enjoying the animals, I wandered up to the dining hall and was greeted by Julie M (also attending the retreat was Julie K, and I, Julie L.). Not knowing who she was, I rambled about my background and how I was surprised when during Friday night services the rabbi started accompanying the pianist and singer… his wife…
“Wait,” I suddenly thought. The rabbi’s wife is name Julie… ummm… Julie M… Muriel!
“Jeepers, how will I ever extract my foot from my mouth,” I regrettably pondered. There was nothing to be done aside from take a deep breath and excuse myself to meeting another person and once again commit a faux paux.
Dinner was pleasant with many charismatic women who shared humorous stories about their travels – our assignment to share later that evening. Energized and satiated from dinner, we walked up to the camp’s chapel, a simple, yet spiritual building with tall windows that look out onto the forest below.
Our chairs in a circle, we started the Shabbat services, specifically written for that evening with passages of importance to women. Were also given a pen with one word on it, meant to signify our focus for the weekend. Mine said “cherut,” which means freedom in English.
Using our pens, we were asked to write our autobiography in six words. I wrote, “Stopped breathing. Rescued. Now breathing freedom.”
Those six words were all it took to plunge me into a downward torrid of tears. Towards the end of the service, when we were asked to stand and create a healing circle, I was too overcome with emotion to continue. I rushed outside and cried, and cried, and cried.
I cried because I miss my dear grandmother, Rose, who comforted, encouraged, and love me after my father died. As a sensitive nine-year old, who dissuaded from spending time with friends, I was constantly berated and belittled by my narcissistic mother who half the time saw me as an inconvenience, and the other, as a minion to cook, clean, garden, and cater to her escapades.
My earliest memories were of being scolded, told to stop crying, and then passing out because in an effort to curtail my crying, my tongue would curl back in my throat cutting off my breathing. It happened many times until I learned to put my hand in my mouth to prevent my tongue from cutting off my breath.
Whoa. I can’t believe what I just wrote. I hadn’t thought about cutting off my breath for so long… I need to resume writing about the retreat at another time. The emotions it aroused are still too fresh.