Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Make An Ugly Woman Your Wife

Jimmy Soul had a number one hit on the Billboard charts in 1963 singing the advice "if you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, make an ugly woman your wife." After the last woman who I was madly attracted to turned out to be more than a little psychotic, Mr. Soul's words sound quite sagacious. The reality, however, is that I don't know anyone who specifically sets out to find a spouse they find unattractive, and I question how happy it might actually make them. I know many, though, who take the extreme opposite route, placing a premium on attractiveness. If a woman is not a size 2 and supermodel gorgeous, many guys will not even give them the time of day. And it is not just the guys. I have met plenty of women who will settle for nothing less than the chiseled, broad-shouldered, over six foot man of their dreams who is rich to boot!

While I am not holding out for a supermodel, I also have fallen prey to placing importance on beauty - and I am troubled by it. I wonder how many great women I have turned down after a date or two - or even before getting to that stage - because I did not find them pretty. Yes, I have also ended things because a woman was not warm, or because she was rude or materialistic, but those are personality traits. I know that beauty fades, it is not constant, and it is purely external, having nothing to do with a person's intrinsic worth.

Yes, attraction has to be there, and attraction for me is not just based on physical attributes, and no, I am not seriously advocating marrying someone one is not attracted to, but it bothers me how great a role the physical plays in my thoughts. Why does it have to be this way? Is it strictly western society's influence? Have we been conditioned to expect everyone to look like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt? Do Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt even really look like the images of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt that we are presented with? When more of marriage is about who's going to get the milk at the grocery store than satiating lust, why is physical beauty so high on the list of essential traits in a spouse for so many of us?

Perhaps it needs to be the initial draw, because genuine love based on giving and mutual respect only develops later, after being there for each other and working together to build something - a relationship, a home, a life together. And just practically, for desire to be there, and to look at each other day in day out, there must be attraction. But how much is enough? What do we hold out for? How do we measure?

I can't quantify it personally, except to say I know it is more important to marry someone who will be a good spouse and a good parent to your children together, and who shares similar values in life. I would rather have those things and marry someone who I am somewhat attracted to than to not have them and be with someone I am madly attracted to - and yet, attraction does have to be there. I do not care about impressing my guy friends. I do not care if everyone else thinks my wife is the most beautiful woman in the world. What I do want, though, is to be able to tell my wife I think she is beautiful and mean it - because she deserves that.

For those of you who are married, what was the one trait that figured most prominently in drawing you to your spouse? How important was the attractiveness factor before marriage and now after marriage? And for those of you who are single, to what degree have physical attributes played a role in your dating choices and in what you are looking for in a spouse? I very curiously await your thoughts...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Bears And I

I don't do winter well. Even though technically winter does not begin for another month or so, once we push the clocks back and it begins to get darker earlier, and colder outside, it is already winter for me, and I tend to hibernate, both physically and spiritually.

Already, I can feel it beginning - I grow more reflective and wistful and internal, instinctively grab for sweaters, think of how cold it is before venturing outside, stay a little longer under the covers. The music I listen to is more mellow, the books I read carry greater weight and depth, or at least have more resonance for me.

There are many wonderful things I associate with this time of year: watching snow fall from the comfort of a window, the perfect time to listen to the beautiful Tori Amos song Winter, the lights of chanukah, hot drinks as they go down your throat, more night - for those of us creative types who do our best work after dark, watching how excited kids are to play in the snow, hearty soups; it is a very good time for a visit to California...

And an image: Rav Dovidl of Diniv, the son of the Bnei Yissachar, said that once Elul began, tzadikim would look up at the night sky and see a hand in the stars. Each day, the hand would lower and unfurl its fingers a little more - until Chanukah, when it would close its fingers and return to the sky and invisibility. The hand was of course the hand of HaShem, giving a little extra help and encouragement to those of us who would not have made it into the Book of Life on our own merits. (Many chassidim believe we have until Chanukah to do teshuva for the past year). A very comforting image.

And yet....winter isn't my season. I'm all for reflection, and drawing inward at certain times, but mostly I find winter a time of barrenness and loneliness even within a crowd, of searching for warmth and light (thank God for Chanukah), storing up hope, watching footprints - literally and figuratively - that you've made in the snow, building up, fortifying to burst forth in life, in Spring...

I could use the hand. so I'd like to think the Chassidim have it right.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Car Wheels On A Gravel Road

I have always had a strong affinity for road trips, whether with friends, family, or even on my own. A car, the open road, good tunes, meaningful conversations or deep meditations, and sometimes, breathtaking beauty - there is nothing quite like driving up the California coastline for sheer magnificence.

When E-the-Brotha suggested a road trip to Cleveland, however, I was a bit apprehensive, on account of the deer in Indiana. Not all of the deer in Indiana, but a specific, large, dead one on route 80, a multi-lane highway (4 lanes? 5 lanes? not sure) that stretches across the midwest.

Last year around this time, my sister and I took a road trip to Milwaukee to spend Simchat Torah with D and Dr. Dobro. As it was a 16 hour drive each way, we stopped for a night in Cleveland both on the way there and on the way back.

On the return trip in Indiana: I was driving 80 miles an hour on the highway, when the car in front of me quickly swerved into the lane to my left. For a split second, I wondered what had caused him to swerve so wildly. But then immediately there right in front of our car in our lane was a large, dead deer. There was a car to my right, a car to my left, and no chance of making an abrupt stop at our speed.

I had no choice but to go over the deer.

The sound of car on deer was horrible. I felt sick as it was happening. Thank God the deer was already dead or for sure I would have killed it with the car. If that wasn't awful enough, because the deer was so large, going over it lifted our car in the air a bit, and I lost control of the wheel. The car did a complete 360, spun across all the lanes of traffic to our right, and then continued to spin back across the lanes to our left.

As it was happening, it felt surreal, like we were watching a movie. Everything just stopped - all thought, my heart. Both my sister and I remained incredibly calm, and I just kept repeating "it's ok." My sister, in a very calm, even-keeled voice, gave a play by play of what was occurring as it was happening:

"Oh my God, MC, we just went over the dead deer."

And then...

"Oh my God, MC, we're doing a complete 360."

And then...

"Oh my God, MC, cars are coming at us at 80 miles an hour."

And then...

"Oh my God, MC, we're spinning the other way."

Unbelievably, nobody hit us as we spun across all the lanes of the highway (twice!) before coming to a stop on the grass divider. Four other cars also ended on the divider, whether because of the deer or because they were trying to avoid hitting us as we careened out of control, I can't say. Though one of the cars stopped just short of going into the other side of traffic, no one got hurt and none of the cars sustained any damage.

Once we came to a stop, my heart began pounding furiously, and I said a prayer of thanks to God for our lives and for no one getting hurt. We sat there in stunned silence for a few moments, then got out of the car as we saw people running towards us to see if we were alright. I was so amazed by how many people had stopped their cars on the side of the road to check on us.

After making sure that everyone else was ok, we took a good look at our car, at the highway, and at the deer. The car was covered in deer blood and had a putrid smell, the road and the grass had crazy skidmarks, and the deer was still where it had been in the road. By the time the police arrived, everyone else had driven off, but we remained to walk around a bit and absorb the shock.

The officer told us it looked like the deer had been dead for some time, that there wasn't much we could have done, that we were incredibly lucky, and that as we did not kill the deer and no one was hurt in the accident, we could drive off as soon as we felt up to it. I went to shake the officer's hand, but he said it was policy not to, as I might be carrying a concealed weapon!

The drive from Indiana to Cleveland was horrible. We were both still shaken up, I had the sound of the car going over the deer in my head, and though relieved that I did not cause the animal's death, felt awful for the deer. Mostly, I was thankful that my sister and I were alive, and that no one was hurt. It was still a bit surreal, however, and I had not yet processed what happened.

A good night's sleep in Cleveland helped, and in the morning, at shul, I bentched gomel (prayer of thanks for surviving a dangerous situation), and we took the car to a car wash. As we headed back to New York, I couldn't help wondering what it all meant. Was HaShem sending us a message that we (or I, was) were doing something wrong in (my life)our lives? Was He letting us know that He is looking out for us? Was it a reminder to have emunah (belief) or a castigation for not having enough? Maybe both. I am not a big fan of "miracle stories, but in retrospect, it really did seem rather miraculous that we weren't killed.

As we approached the George Washington Bridge, my sister's cell phone rang. It was our mom, telling us that our brother Robro, had just been hit by a car while riding his bike. He had gone over the hood of the car, and landed in the road, and was now in hospital. My sister and I just looked at each other in disbelief. Thankfully, he came away with only scratches and bruises and was released the same day. It was more than a little freaky to have these events happen one day after the other.

When I told my Rav about these incidences, he said we should have a seudat hodayah ( a feast of thanks to God) each year to commemorate the kindnesses HaShem showed our family.

The trip back from the midwest this time was uneventful, thank God. We did not have to drive through Indiana, of course, but it is mating season for deer, and I was especially watchful for any darting - or lying - in the road.

I still wonder sometimes about the why, and what I am to take from these events, but can we ever really know? I think about my trust in God and my level of emunah all the time, and wonder at how I did not think of God or death as we were spinning, but only afterwards. I am still troubled by that. Every now and again, the episode replays in my mind. Mostly, though, I am just thankful that my sister, my brother and I are alive to tell the tale.