Monday, June 20, 2011

How Far to Virtue?

Last month, I sat across my Hasidic Jewish boss. She talked passionately about politics (although our meeting was not supposed to be about that) and I asked her where she found time to do all of this? She had 12 schools, a business on the side and was in the middle of an audit. She smiled and said that her children were grown now and at night, there was always time. She's a woman in her 50's with two masters, 7 children, and innumerable grandchildren and has a lot more in her plate than most women I know. I told her about my blog--my pursuit to virtue and she was amused. I asked if she knew that the Woman of Valour was supposed to be Sarah and Bathsheba. My boss rolled her eyes. She said the Virtuous Woman was not a particular woman. "It could be any woman," she said. "It's the type of woman she is. She works hard, she takes care of her family, she takes care of herself. She's educated. She runs a business. She is..." my boss looked up and smiled dryly.

"A Jewish woman," I finished. "How is it done?" I asked.

Three months ago I embarked on a journey to become the Woman of Valour found in Proverbs 31.  I established that Elizabeth, as I named her, was perfect and that I, Anna Marie, was an epic failure in comparison but hey, I'm almost 40 and I was determined to achieve the unachievable and with a little bit of attitude trimming, some self-control, several sacrifices, denials of everyday pleasures, I too could become the Virtuous Woman. But here I am, after 12 weeks, thankful that my blog is only the "pursuit" towards perfection and not "gaining" perfection because shocking as it might be, I am still very far behind.

Frankly, I might have regressed.

I tried really hard in the beginning to wake up every morning, pray, exercise (stretch) and spend atleast 5 minutes on my hair and I knew, I KNEW, I should not have taken the weekends off.  Any good coach could tell you that if you sit your best players two games a week, that player will lose his mojo.  And so, I did.  The weekend reprieve from daily routine of waking before dawn, praying, exercising and primping extended to Monday mornings.  And yes, yes, eventually, the reprieve lasted five days and the commitment dwindled down to a resentful two and finally, I was overcome by the who-are-you-really-kidding mantra that played in my head every time I tried to get up to get right back on track.  And I have decided never to enter a depriving type of diet ever again.  The 9 weeks no sugar diet I capriciously committed to left me with an insaitiable desire to ingest anything and everything with corn syrup and I have spent everyday since the end of that diet eating brownies, cookies, and cakes.  And maybe I broke that diet way before it was over.  It's hard to imagine the Woman of Valour binging on pastries and afterwards staring at herself in the mirror and mumbling, "You're a pathetic failure."

Last week, as I sat trying to make a left turn in the middle of traffic at Ocean Parkway and none of the drivers would let me through, I knew as I screamed, "Stupid Brooklyn Drivers, let me through you morons!" that it was time to re-evaluate my pursuit to Virtue. Time to get back on track or get off altogether.

You see, it's been over two weeks since I wrote on this blog.  I knew I would have to confess to my readers.  And here I am.  Ashamed.

I got up this morning wondering where this pursuit has taken me.  Nowhere?  Here I am, still getting up later than I should, running like a wildfire in the mornings before work, hoping I don't scare the children I teach with my unruly hair, my prayer life hanging on a balance, my cluttered closet looking like a clearance sale, still as disorganized as ever.  How far was I to virtue?
"Well, Anna Marie, how do you do it?" My boss asked, smiling.  "You're doing a lot and you have a family and small children."

I supposed she was right but I wondered how much does the woman herself, my boss, her daughters, and women like them, mattered in the height of their own virtue? It's hard for me to imagine my boss enjoying herself.  I realized that this journey has led me to discoveries unintended for this pursuit. Or perhaps God being God, knew I needed to make some detours before I can reach my own destination to Virtue.  I've started getting to know the root of my emotions. I've uncovered the reason why I don't cry. And I've revisited bravely the day I almost lost my daughter. In 3 months time I've gotten to know myself more than I have the last 37 years of my life and realized more than ever that truly, Elizabeth is the type of woman I really want to become but I don't want to reach my destination having gained all of what makes one virtuous while neglecting the woman herself.  I have a deep desire for success and I want to achieve as much as I can for as long as God would allow but this blog has made me realize that I also want to be happy, know who I am, and not lose myself for the sake of what I should be.

And then today I spent a portion of the day with my boss's beautiful 28-year-old daughter. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, has her master's in special education, and the genius behind her mother's schools.  She also has five children.  It's just their way of life, she explained matter-of-factly.  Not all Jewish women reach the level of Elizabeth but yes, that is the woman they're to become.  It's the guideline they follow and that's just the way it is.  She seemed neither impressed nor overwhelmed with the set of standards outlined in that last chapter of Proverbs.  As far as she was concerned it was as expected as an 18-year-old going off to college.  It was simply the thing to do.

Needless to say, I am a long way to Virtue. Unlike a Jewish little girl born into the culture that sees the Woman of Valour not only as someone she can become but a woman that she must become, I come from the secular culture that sees the Woman of Valour as a mythological figure whose qualities make the average person hyperventilate. So I think the key is for me to stop glorifying Elizabeth and saying quite simply, hey, this is the set of guidelines I'm going to follow.  As far as I'm concerned it's as achievable as going to college.  It's simply the thing to do. No big deal.  And should I need to hyperventilate, I'll always keep a paper bag within reach.  But I will keep running after Virtue and I will keep pursuing Elizabeth, even if I  did stop for a water break the last two weeks.

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