Going Out Of Egypt

UntitledHistorically, I haven’t had the best relationship with Passover: the cleaning, the food restrictions, the cleaning, the anticipation for weeks, the shopping, the cleaning. Did I mention the cleaning? It would all get to me, annoy me, and keep me from focusing on the good parts of the holiday, on the themes that I should have been focusing. The irony that I felt enslaved to a holiday that is all about freedom was not lost on me.

I got better, and over the last few years I learned to embrace the process as part of the preparation to achieve the right frame of mind for the holiday. Then after I got divorced, it all changed, or rather, I changed.

We learn from the Talmud that there are 50 levels of purity/impurity, and when the Israelites were in Egypt, the reason they had to get out in a hurry, like grab-your-unleavened-bread-and-go kind of hurry, was that they had reached the 49th level of impurity. Had they waited one more moment to leave Egypt, had they tarried one more second, they would have slipped to the 50th level, and been lost forever. As a lesson, I always grasped the significance, but it remained academic, theoretical: I could understand the idea of someone being just on the border of the abyss and being saved in the nick of time, but on an abstract level.

That all changed after my divorce. I was angry with God, and decided to walk away from Judaism for good. I stopped everything: kosher, Shabbat observance, prayers, rituals, studying. Everything. I put all my stuff in the back of the closet, and went on to live a non-Jewish life. I didn’t make any blessings during the day, I ate non-kosher food–heck, I ate pork again after 10 years–, I did whatever I wanted on Saturdays, and planned to completely ignore every Jewish holiday. That all lasted maybe two weeks before I made a huge realization: I was absolutely miserable, and lost. I remember one afternoon when I went out for a walk to try to cheer myself up, and all I could do was think of how empty I felt, and I ended up crying, weeping like a child. At that moment, I finally understood what being in the 49th level of impurity meant, what it felt like. Right then and there I made a decision to do teshuva (literally, to return) and start again on the road to God. At that moment, I experienced my own personal exodus that kept me from slipping into the 50th level.

Every Passover since then I am reminded of that day, and I rejoice that I get the chance to keep improving myself. I am not as observant as I was once, and I’m certainly not Orthodox anymore. These days I focus less on labels and categories, and more on connection and meaning, and during Passover, when I recall that moment, I get to personally experience the idea of getting out of Egypt, of freedom from enslavement, of redemption. Don’t get me wrong, each year is still a struggle. Although I may not be as observant as I once was, I still take Passover seriously, and although I don’t keep kosher throughout the year, I do keep kosher for Passover. Each of the last three Passovers have been different, which means adapting to my situation at the time and doing the best possible effort. It is in making that effort that I find my connection, my meaning. In having to force myself to think how to keep Passover to the best of my ability given where I am in life each spring, I get to actively think about the holiday, about its meaning, about its laws and customs, and how they mesh into my life. Each year has been different, but each year I somehow find the connection I seek. I mean, last year it took me building a LEGO Passover table and seder for everything to click!

This year, in the midst of preparing to move back to Florida, of packing two different apartments, of working full-time, of finishing my degree online, of taking care of our 3-month-old daughter, Passover snuck up on me. But somehow, with just a day to spare, I managed to gather my supplies, and get ready for the holiday. Did I feel that connection yet? No, but at least I had my matzah, and the rest of my supplies. I had arranged to attend the Passover seder at the synagogue I go to, and since I was on babysitting duty, I would be bringing my daughter along for the event. You know when it all clicked for me this year? As I was sitting at synagogue, trying to listen to the rabbi above the hustle and bustle of 50+ people, and we reached in the haggadah the part about the Four Children, and we read:

As for the one who does not know how to ask, you must initiate him, as it is said: “You shall tell your child on that day, `It is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt.'”

I read that quickly, then it dawned on me: this wasn’t just another line in the haggadah anymore; this time I had my daughter with me, this time I could really tell my child, on that day, that “It is because of this (meaning the whole story of Passover) that God did for me when I left Egypt.” I left Egypt. Me. For the first time I got to say that to my own child, and in telling my child, it all clicked, and I was once again experiencing the exodus, freedom, redemption. It was also a reminder that without having been to the bottom, and getting back up, I would not be sitting at a seder with my daughter, of that I am sure.

I don’t know what my situation will be next year, but I know without a doubt that I will find that connection, that I will work to find that connection, and once again go out of Egypt.

Talking About Faith & Religion

faithsFor some time now, I have been writing openly about faith and religion over on my Google+ account. I chose that platform due to having a limited audience made up of people who in general are open to conversations about more serious subjects in a respectful manner. Even so, when I first decided to start posting on the subject, I was reserved and hesitant, maybe even a little afraid that my posts would not be well received, or worse, attacked. The geek-o-sphere (at least the environs I inhabit and interact with) isn’t generally religious, and there are elements that are downright offensive towards believers. Those I usually interact with are always respectful, but the potential was there. It took me a bit to accept that risk, to be comfortable with the possibility, and then to ignore it, to simply focus on what I needed to say, not on what others maybe could/would say.

It wasn’t, isn’t, easy, I have to say. Although I’ve always been upfront about my faith and my religious journey, it’s normally in conversation, in person, not in writing, not in a public forum. But the thing is that I like to talk about the subject, and I want to be able to explore different facets of it. Hopefully others of like mind will join in the conversation, but if not, that’s fine as well. This is about my journey.

Now I’m taking the next step: although I will continue to post to Google+ (where you are welcomed to follow me), some of those posts will also find their way here, to my blog, to my public forum. You are very welcomed to join in the conversation.

Why I’m Not Made For Cons Anymore

Over this past weekend, I attended Gamehole Con in Madison, WI. It was very last minute due to the way my work schedule gets released, and I was there only on Friday, the first day of the con, for a few hours in the afternoon. I knew full well that I wouldn’t be able to get in on any scheduled game, since they had pretty much all sold out prior to the show, but I figured it would still be a nice opportunity to be around games and gamers, especially because I didn’t go to Gen Con this year. So off to Madison I went.

Gamehole Con was a nicely put-together con. It’s a smaller show, but it had a dedicated fan base that was there bright and early to support it, managed to bring in a good amount of special guests (big benefit of being in Wisconsin/the Midwest, since there’s a large concentration of gaming luminaries in the area), featured a small but diverse Exhibitor Hall, and even had a special owlbear plushie unique to the con! The staff was also super nice and helpful, and I was impressed by the quality of the core con paraphernalia, like the badge, con booklet, goodie bag (with a d6, button, and sticker!), and branded merch that was useful at the show, like the plastic tumbler that included unlimited soda refills throughout the weekend. I would recommend this con in a heartbeat, especially to the D&D/Old School Fantasy crowd, as that was a big part of what I saw represented there.

My visit was nice, but I didn’t really do anything other than walk around, check out the vendors, oogle at the minis terrain, talk to a couple of friends I happened to see, and take some pics. It was nice indeed to be around games, but I didn’t have the chance to play anything, not even a demo. There were no pick-up games available, and while there was a game library, since I was there by myself, I had no one to play with. I walked the vendor hall three times, looking at pretty much everything, which took about an hour of my time. I ended up leaving about an hour before I had scheduled simply because I was bored and a bit bummed. This is when I realized that I may just not be made for cons anymore, at least not cons smaller than Gen Con.

Because of my hiatus from gaming since the start of nursing school, and continuing over the last 2-3 years, I feel like a long-lost expat visiting the motherland whenever I go to a con: it’s familiar, but unknown at the same time. I can remember the things I did, the things I liked, the good moments, but I can’t find the connection to the present, to creating new moments. Nursing allows me a good amount of free time, but it is also quite random in its availability, especially since I started working nights. In general, I tend to be off when most people are at work, or vice versa. It isn’t conducive to getting back into regular gaming; every time I’ve tried, I end up bowing out due to scheduling issues. So the itch remains unscratched, but it dulls out with the passage of time. Gaming is a thing I did, but that I don’t currently do at all now.

Because of my recent moves across the country in the past 2 years, I don’t have a set group of friends to go on gaming adventures with either. I have lots of good acquaintances all over the states, yes, but we don’t meet regularly at all. At Gen Con, at least, I can count on the largest concentration of these far-flung acquaintances and friends being in one place, but that’s not the case with most cons. Not attending with friends means not having built-in play partners, and while I’m outgoing with those I know, I am actually fairly shy and not likely to just reach out and meet new people to jump into a game with.

I also have an issue with cons-within-cons and the extra price these carry. If I’m paying $30-$90 for a convention badge (whether 1-day or full-weekend pass), it bothers me to have to pay separate charges for scheduled events. So to use an example from my trip to Origins last year, Games on Demand was running a few games I would’ve jumped into, but each one cost an extra $4 (or just about, from what I recall). So I ended up playing two GoD games with tickets I already had (still an extra $8 added to my badge cost), but if I had played in all the games I wanted to, that extra cost could’ve been $40 or more. GoD is just an example; this goes on for basically all scheduled events.

All these factors, which I have been musing on, and thinking about, since last year’s Origins, are things I can’t deny anymore. This is why I say I may not be made for cons anymore. Gen Con, due to its sheer size, may get a pass: I can spend lots of time in the Exhibitor Hall, find/create pick-up games with friends without paying extra, have lots to see if I just feel like wandering around for a while. Smaller cons, however, unlike I happen to know well in advance that I’ll be able to attend, can sign up for some scheduled games, and/or attend with people I know, may just be events I skip, rather than attending with the faint hope that I won’t feel like a spectator of a life I once had and enjoyed.

Next local con coming up is Midwinter Gaming Convention in Milwaukee, WI, from Jan 14-17, 2016. I still don’t know if I’ll have that weekend off (or of my baby daughter will have been born by then!), so I can’t make plans. So I’ll probably skip it.

But still a part of me dreams.