When I was nineteen I took my first job as an au-pair in Sarasota, Florida. I was wildly excited about the position because, firstly, it was far far away from home, and secondly the family would be the first Jewish people I had ever met— I would be living with them, adventure!
I grew up in a small South-African town; I was a white, middle-class Protestant girl raised in the Apartheid era— I only knew one Catholic person, for heaven sakes. Sheltered and ignorant, I ventured into the wider world all by myself, sure that if I only travelled enough, explored enough, I would find my purpose. Purpose, you see, is my proverbial carrot; why? is my resting face— why should I do that? why can’t I do that? why, what’s the point of doing that? WHY?! Most everyone I knew back home got annoyed with my resting face. Accepting the status quo was the order of the day (minding your own business) and questioning everything was disrespectful, especially when the questions came from a young, ignorant girl. Since I felt I would not uncover my purpose at home, I made my way across to America. It was a starting point, I thought, a place where finding one’s purpose was akin to a search for the Holy Grail, not only legitimate but worthy of praise.
On arrival in Florida, I quickly realized two things: Jewish women were like all other women— they liked shit done their own way. Secondly, being Jewish had less to do with what you believed, and more to do with your culture, your inheritance as such. On one occasion, while alone in the car with the husband of the pedantic woman I was working for, I had the balls to ask why he didn’t believe in, Jesus. “Well, I’m Jewish,” he smirked, “Also, I don’t believe in God, so believing in his supposed son would be ridiculous.”
Let’s just take a beat here, and acknowledge the complete and utter absurdity of that conversation. I was a nineteen-year-old ignoramus, who thought that she had the right to question a man twice her age, the owner of a law firm, why he didn’t have the smarts to believe the myth she intended to build her life around. And he actually engaged in my delusion of equality— why?!
“But, you can’t be Jewish if you don’t believe in God! You can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe in God, so how can you be Jewish and an atheist? Why don’t you believe in God?” Amazingly, that dear man was not offended; we debated. He arranged a traditional Purim meal so that I could experience a Jewish tradition— he hadn’t celebrated Purim for years, he said. I’ve admired Jewish men ever since. They have held the characteristics of wisdom and objectivity in my mind and had a Jewish man ever been romantically interested in me, I would have married him on principle. Mr. Tannenbaum, wherever you may be in the world, thank you for humouring this shmuck back in 1997.
Alas, I only got to pick Mr. Tannenbaum’s mind for a month. One night I came home (after my very first night off in four weeks), and Mrs. Tannenbaum was in a rage.
“I told you to clean the kitchen before you left!”
“I did!” I defended. She pointed to a pot on the stove. I walked over and looked into a pot filled with starchy water. “I’m sorry, I overlooked it.”
After much back and forth (like a Navratilova vs. Graf match), the incensed woman fired me and kicked me out on the spot.
As angry as she was about the pot, I believe the woman needed me gone ASAP, since, you see, the previous day I had walked in on her shtupping the contractor. She was remodelling her clothing store. He’d come over to show her some upgraded fittings. You know how it goes.
Alone in a foreign country, with $14 in my pocket, I called my only contact, Mrs. Nesbitt, who said I’d better go and stay with her until she could find a new job for me. I took the bus to Tampa and was picked up from the bus station by two boys (men) who happened to be boarding at Mrs. Nesbitt’s house while they were at university. They were Russian.
The Russians were kind. And generous. They took me out several times, and one night, while waiting for our turn to whip around a go-kart track, the eldest one offered me a job. “You know,” say this in a Russian accent “You could make a lot of money selling sex in Russia.” The younger guy nodded, straight-faced. “We can help you. Our dads, they are connected. You would not be in danger. We can get you protection.”
I cannot remember what I said, but they never offered to help me again, indeed they never took me out again. I must have seemed annoyed. I think back to their proposition now, and wonder just how much money I could have made by taking them up on their offer? Would I have made serious bank?… and what benefit could I have gleaned from having connections, or at least connections of connections within the Russian mafia? We’ll never know.
I’ve told you these fantastical stories today, because, well, while snow-blowing my ferkakta driveway this morning, I remembered the events with fondness. I used them to remind myself of purpose. While I was in the midst of those adventures I did not find my circumstances funny or purposeful at all. In fact, I remember feeling homesick, and absolutely alone, petrified and lost. I could not understand why everything was so hard? What was the point of it all?
This last weekend I wrestled with God… or myself, either way, it was hard. On Monday, just like that famous Jewish wrestler, Jacob, I felt bruised and changed, somewhat. I am once again, alone, my husband far far away. I’m a single parent, one more time. It’s fucking hard. I’ve been through this nightmare before, and yet, this time, I am aware of something new. A new kind of understanding… or a burgeoning of an idea that is creating a rubber-like wall in my thinking.
Purpose, a life goal, has been the undercurrent of many a raging river in my stream of thought. What is the point of this struggle, and is the struggle symptomatic? Am I not fulfilling my pre-destined purpose? If I were living a life of purpose (even if I can’t name it), surely there would be evidence of success. And I see none, friends, or not much of it — success, I mean. I am unsuccessful. And when the same damn trials and tribulations keep coming back, like herpes or the clap, I am tempted to dip myself in bleach. If I could just start again, disinfect my life and wipe away the choices, then perhaps my purpose will shine brightly before my eyes. I’ll know why! What is the point of me?
Every journey, every choice I’ve ever made, has been in the pursuit of purpose. Consciously, I’ve yearned to find meaning. I’ve been to some strange places and believed some strange things because they’ve meant something to me for a short while. Most often, that meaning fades. Perhaps I lack commitment? Maybe. Or…
I’m beginning to wonder if life, my life, is too complex an endeavour to be confined by a single formulated purpose. Most activities, pursuits or experiences seem to have conflicting outcomes, eg: I find purpose and meaning as a mother, but being a mother also chokes the life out of me. Being a mother is not my purpose, it is a purpose. Perhaps my purpose is to find purpose (meaning)? Looking for meaning puts me in a unique position— I am always watchful; my eyes and ears wait for story. And weird things happen to me or in front of me all the time. I guess I’ve invited it. But, what can I do with that? How do I get through the times when life seems pointless, or unproductive, or I can’t see the meaning in the things I’m doing?
Getting rid of the snow that has been shat all over my 100 m driveway is a futile, thankless job. I need to do it again and again and again. There is no one else to do it but me. Today, after filling up the snow-blower with gas (1/3 of which ended up down my pant leg), after wrestling with the machine up and down, up and down the driveway, I covered it with the big blue tarp and smiled at the crunchy path I’d made for my car. I have no fucking clue why I’m left doing all this shit by myself. But, I do know that one day, one day years down the road, I’ll have a story to tell. And if having a story to tell is the whole point of my life, well then, I’m okay with that. Because I believe in story. More than anything else, really.
That rubber-like wall that has begun to line my thought-life is this: Find purpose in everything. Everything has a purpose.
While not everyone will weather their struggles this way, I can say that it does make for an interesting life. In the end, my eulogy might not list many successes, but it will be interesting.