The artwork for this blog post is by Devorah Weinberg.
Not owning a full length mirror can serve many good purposes. For a mother whose suddenly pear-shaped body, blessed from an adventurous physical roller coaster after the birth of wonderful children, a chest high mirror can serve one’s ego by pretending her body hasn’t changed at all and sure, go ahead and eat whatever you want, you look great ! ( above the waist, at least)
But sometimes, you have to take a physical accounting of where you are at. On Pesach, Gd asked us to go through our personal castle, our own home, and take notes of every nook and cranny in which chametz may have touched. Everything is scrubbed, polished, washed, or set aside and duct-taped down. Rather than our home and its stuff crowding us, we push it all back to the boundaries and places where they belong.
On Mikva Night, some things cannot be ignored. The body which Gd graced us, to house children and to shuffle back and forth between playgroups and schools and errands. The thighs upon which little toushies sit as you read them that book (again), as you rock them to sleep… The calves which hold us up to scramble eggs and the biceps which push strollers and open doorways and invite in guests. The hair which has become matted beneath the head covering, kept from the sun and light for so long.
All must be soaked, and scrubbed, and accounted for. Each inch must be onced-over, filed down, pampered. Each hair combed through. Ears cleaned out. A complete conduit. A perfect offering.
I stood there, before the new spa-like-marble-coated-head-to-toe bathroom of the mikvah, before the full-length mirror. The first time since my birth, six weeks later, mouth aghast to see my body in its fullness. I could not comprehend how it belonged to me. Me? These thighs? This stomache? Layers of body piled upon each other, as if meeting each other awkwardly for the first time. As I climb, gingerly, wordlessly, fearfully, into the tub, to soak this body, after the marathon that is childbirth, I felt myself as the physical sacrifice that I am.
“Gd,” I thought. “ This is the body you gave me. I used it, to its greatest potential. These are the scars, these are the remnants, of my journey. Cleanse me, uplift me, to continue on together. “
As I massaged my calves and legs with soap, I remembered the toned person I once was, the runner… But it was all worth it. And maybe one day…
I relaxed, in the quiet of a mikvah night where all newborn babies and 2 year old toddlers are far away, in the ear shot of a burdened papa, and all I need to do is take care of myself. My thoughts collide over one another, remembering the birth, feeling the weight of the last few weeks, the elation and the struggle. I bask in the sudden stillness and quiet, drinking it in, realizing the extent to which I was craving this break from hectic child life.
I emerge from the tub, fingers and toes wrinkled, face shining despite sagging, tired eyes.
After timidly and with great courage re-surveying my body to ensure its cleanliness, I wrap myself in a towel safely, away from my own eyes and the eyes of the mikvah attendant. Somethings don’t have to be seen or thought about all the time. Somethings can be known and remembered but wrapped up for comfort.
I step into the waters, into the small, powerful space that is still so quiet. I have a few moments, as I wade in the water, to quietly scream out to Gd, while the attendant waits. My body, now aware of itself fully, calls out with me. Together, we ( mind, spirit, body, soul)- have a quick but intimate conversation that begs, pleads, submits, and within those inner-whisperings finds a connection with the circle of life and the universe. Here, in this small space, I am the most utterly alone I have ever been, beaten down by the intensity of pregnancy and birth, then recalled to service and to rising again. Here I am re-imbued with the rejuvenating waters that pulse through my veins and carry me onwards. In the quiet calling out, in the time-rushed urgent requests for the raining down of brucha- as I sense the waiting eyes of the attendant behind me, I feel Gd closer than I ever have before.
I emerge from the waters, traveling up the steps to the towel that blocks my body and awaits me, as “kosher” “kosher” “kosher” connects me to the kinetic workings of the halachic universe , tapping me with electrical acceptance.
I wrap myself again, a human sacrifice, humbled but re-impowered.
Life is just beginning.