Sunday, December 2, 2012

Challenge Accepted

Today was a turning point. Not in any significant life-event way, but in the subtle sort of epiphany way.

On this blog, I talk a lot about how the last three months have been some of the hardest of my life, though they're slowly getting easier one day at a time. I've tried to keep the details of what makes them so difficult off the internet, though more and more I'm thinking that someday soon, when I'm ready, I may actually discuss them. If I feel they're important enough to discuss.

One detail of the three months, the semester from hell, or whatever else I'm calling it, though, is something I think I want to talk about now. And that's the search for the deep conversation. It's the most minute part of this past semester, but among the tons of things and answers I've been searching for, high up on that list was a simple game of hide-and-seek with a philosophical conversation.

I used to have them all the time. And I used to hate them. Something about debating your innermost views of the world with someone seemed to me a little like changing your clothes in front of an audience. Even if that's your thing, even if you don't have any shame about your body, even in front of a close friend, you may be struck by the thought: what if I wore my ugly underwear today? Are they going to think I always wear something like that? In one way or another, you're exposing yourself.

And the thing with philosophical debates is that if the person you're talking to is smarter or more articulate or better educated than you are, it's very easy to come out of the conversation feeling stupid, or somehow invalidated. And that possibility used to scare me, because I lived life in a way I loved, but also thought was a sort of precarious existence. Boy, this post is going to be longer than I thought it would be. My apologies.

Two years ago, if you asked me what I liked least in the world, right after the taste of fennel, I'd say debating. To me, it was fighting for no reason. What was the point of exchanging life opinions with someone? It wasn't like you were going to change their mind. So why get all aggravated if you weren't going to accomplish anything?

Then, sometime in my last semester of college, I don't know when, how, or why, people started approaching me, and asking me to argue. Specifically about religion. Again, I don't know how this started or who told people to approach me. But soon it seemed like every other week, I was having discussions with agnostic or atheist friends of mine about the existence of G-d, why I keep religion, etc. And at the beginning, I hated it.

I remember being on Gchat with someone I had only recently met, having just such a debate, when I finally thought to ask, "why are you having this discussion with me? I'm not a philosopher. I don't know any more about religion than other Modern Orthodoxers."

To which he replied, "You're harder to argue with."

Apparently, the way I view my Faith is unusual. I still don't quite understand why, but from that point on, I thought, well, if they're going to argue with me, I might as well get into it. 

At the peak of my philosophical arguing (about a year ago), I was having these discussions almost every day. My favorite story to reference was the time a friend I hadn't seen in a while walked up to me at a party and said simply, "Hey, I'm an atheist now. I heard you like religious debates. Let's fight."

Again, I'm still really not sure why me.

Anyway, the debating and questioning was what finally led me, at around this time last year, to apply for my Master's in Judaic Studies. I felt like I had heard some kind of calling. Not a divine thing, but more along the lines of, hey, I seem to be good at this. Maybe I should make something of it.

And three months ago, just as all the proverbial spit was hitting the fan, I started Grad School, and instantly wondered whether I'd made a massive mistake. I felt like the tiniest little goldfish in a shark tank. Everyone knew more than me, and they were more aggressive, and they were not good little religious girls. They were theologians, Bible scholars, grown-ups. And they weren't interested in hearing my innermost thoughts. They wanted me to write papers. Long papers. One of which I should be writing right now, on what one theologian said to one historian two-hundred years ago before this pogrom wiped out the population of that village and how this all affected this theory of that study. I was In. Over. My. Head.

At one point, I confessed to a friend, "all of this academic language and writing, why did I go into this in the first place?"I remembered how much I used to love those conversations.

They used to mean something. They used to be an essential part of my week. And I missed the discussions. I missed talking about things that matter. After a while, I realized that not everyone wants to have those discussions, and I stopped asking.

And then today, I was talking to a boy I'd never met before, when they brought up the topic of Halacha. He expressed his opinion on one right path of following Halacha, which led into a discussion about why I should or shouldn't wear pants, which led into the portrayal of women in the Talmud, which led into law in general, the afterlife, evolution...

I won't go into the details of the arguments for sake of not completely boring those who read this far, but let's just say I disagreed with him on nearly every point. What was interesting though, is that while I'm usually used to playing the right-wing role, the religious gal in the face of someone rather against organized religion, this time I was the modern, left-wing, bra-burning feminist of the discussion.

Man, what a rush.

I knew I missed the discussions. I didn't realize until this afternoon just how much I missed them. As I got more excited and animated in my quoting Gemarah and philosophers, I realized I was probably starting to creep the guy out. But I really didn't care.

Somehow, I've gone from hating debates to loving every minute of them, if of course, they remain respectful and don't involve yelling. But for my current semester, unfortunately this day was a fluke. I miss talking about these things regularly. I miss having challengers around. I need a challenge. Because it's the ones who challenge you who are the ones who make you think.

How did that happen?

No comments:

Post a Comment