One day I boarded an airplane and found myself sitting next to a nun. …Did her skin also ache for touch in a way nothing in her world could satisfy? Did she also set aside dreams, like the erotic lesbian dreams that used to pepper my fitful nights?
Leah Lax writes in Dame Magazine:
…One day I boarded an airplane and found myself sitting next to a nun. I had been schooled to quietly disdain other religions, particularly Christianity, but in spite of myself I was drawn to her. She, too, carried a well-thumbed pocket-size prayer book. She, too, had felt the drug-like pull of religious life. She also knew how one could come to love ancient texts that seem to have captured God’s voice from long ago. I sat down, gratefully—and then didn’t say a word the whole flight. I was actually afraid.
I picture us now and then, two women on a plane, me in my wig and long clothes, her in a blue dress and matching scarf, both of us disconnected from the microcosm of society around us, and both willing to feel responsible, by covering ourselves, for the obscure desires of men we didn’t ever really get to know. I imagine us both too in love with structure and assertions of the sublime, unaware of how much that had weakened us.
In communities like hers and like mine, women often don’t dare confide in one another. But sometimes I wonder, what if the plane had gone into distress? Then would we have understood how important it was to speak, and listen?
Did her skin also ache for touch in a way nothing in her world could satisfy? Did she also set aside dreams, like the erotic lesbian dreams that used to pepper my fitful nights?
We used to push the men to recite their long daily prayers and spend time studying holy texts. This earned us their admiration—and also helped us to mildly shame them. Religiosity was subversive power.
The paradox is that our religion gave us the only way we knew to express our connection to God—so our most self-defining, most public expression was in a language of self-erasure. Covering. Silence. Whispered prayer. Humble work indoors. Our rabbi often said that for a woman, changing a diaper was the holiest of prayers.
I remember this when I read about the years-long controversy over France forbidding the veil, or Turkey, where I recently saw many young fashionable women in secular areas of Istanbul going about in niqab head coverings. Clothing is self-expression. Sure it’s ironic, but the veil is the language they have.
I believe the women who fight the hardest for the veil probably cannot begin to imagine the creativity, the audacity, the impossible courage before tradition and the men who uphold it, to come up with their own, new, language about God.
So we obeyed the Law to make a statement that we were good, valid, devoted. Then we dominated our children and laughed among ourselves.
How is it that I am here years later living with my Susan, defiant of the dictates of any religion, in an average middle-aged life? Go to work. Meet friends in a restaurant. Putter in the garden. Walk the dog.
You could say it had to do with the erotic dreams or that ache in my skin, or exhaustion from a “life of the spirit” so utterly physical for women. But I was well trained and would have continued like so many others.
I left when I felt invisible.…
Read it all here.