In one of his final interviews, Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist Sam Shepard explained that the “most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning.” While he was discussing one of the most unpredictable of fields — the theater, I apply it to another rather unpredictable profession. The one I chose twenty-one years ago. Education.
Fourteen months ago I made the decision to jump ship. Not from teaching, but from a special little school that had been my home for the majority of my career. A home I had the privilege to help build along side my husband. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, this exodus was incredibly painful and anything but easy.
And yet, God.
You see, I thought I was bobbing in the open water alone, cast away, abandoned, lost. The amazing colleagues, the Christian fellowship, the beautiful students, the husband’s surprise coffee deliveries. Lost, lost, lost, lost.
Perhaps. But then again, God.
The creator of the universe did not just comfort me in my time of transition, nor did He merely open a door to another teaching position. No, he pulled the magic trick of the century. In the priceless words of Annie Dillard, I “finally understood that [I’m] dealing with a maniac.” God is that outrageously good and perfect and generous.
And to anyone who would argue that point with me, I say look at the ship that He sent to rescue me. My new beginning, my new school, the Yeshiva I now call home. Look a little closer and you’ll see the face of God.
His eyes sparkle with Torat Yisrael, or the commitment to learning Torah. His complexion shines with Medinat Yisrael, or the celebration of the State of Israel. His smile radiates with Chessed, or the devotion to community. And his voice rings out with Tefilah, or prayer each morning and each afternoon.
Only God could drop me into a place where Psalm 121 is read in Hebrew over the loudspeaker every afternoon. Not to mention the worship songs during the spontaneous school-wide Kumsitz, which literally means “come,” “sit!”
Sunday I sat listening to the sermon at my church, Journey of Faith. It was titled “Transform Together,” and was part of a larger sermon series titled Gadgets. The general idea is that through God, everything fits together; through God, all people are connected.” As a self-proclaimed tried-and-true introvert (INFJ, to be exact), the connection part of God’s plan causes me some social anxiety at worst and the occasional awkward handshake at best. (One of the perks of working with Orthodox men — no handshaking.)
But this time it made sense. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he urges us to be “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (12:1 NIV). I’ve never quite mastered the holy and pleasing part of Christianity (and by the way, if any of you have, please shoot me a 21-day plan, so I can get started). But I am here to say the Orthodox Jewish community gets it.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’ve never witnessed Christians living out Romans 12:1 — I certainly have. One specific example is my late mother-in-law who contributed in great part to my faith. But this time I see it in legion. And it is breathtaking.
The irony of my choosing to teach Melville’s epic novel Moby-Dick to my first class of 12th graders at this new school is not lost on me. [Spoiler alert — although, shame on you if you haven’t read it!] In the epilogue, Ishmael is left bobbing in the expanse of the Pacific Ocean while his ship and ship mates have all been drowned. Melville writes, “The drama’s done. Why then here does any one step forth? –Because one did survive the wreck.”
It was the whale ship named The Rachel that picked Ishmael up. It is the Jewish community that has invited me aboard. And I sail across this new beginning with a glorious wind on my face. Baruch Hashem and Thank God!