When the doorbell rang late at night a few weeks ago, as the boys and I lie upstairs in our beds, I knew there was reason to be alarmed. I grabbed the pepper spray that I have kept in my nightstand since my husband moved out and I cautiously made my way to the front door. I felt some relief when I peered through the window and saw a woman on the other side of the door. But it was the contents of the envelope that she held in her hands that would inevitably leave me paralyzed in fear.
The law firm representing our mortgage company had sent this messenger to inform us that our days in our house were numbered. It had been months since we had paid our mortgage, with both our salaries instead going to our respective divorce attorneys. Our legal battle has cost us our home, among other things.
When I lived in Israel many years ago, I participated in a monthly study group composed of some remarkable young women who had traveled from all over the world determined to learn a new language, assimilate into a very different culture and create a life much different from anything they had known previously. We gathered monthly to learn together, to support each other and to share.
During one particular evening nearing the holiday of Passover, we discussed the tangible and intangible items we would take with us if we had been slaves fleeing captivity in Egypt. As strangers in a strange land ourselves, it was not so unimaginable a task to construct a list of our most prized possessions that we would not leave behind. My response has not changed much to this day. I would pack my Judaism and love for God, my Bubbe’s Bible that she held under the chuppah (wedding canopy) at her wedding to my Zedde, and my other Grandmother’s necklace–a gift from my Papa. Most treasured of all, I would take my journals that document my life experiences, my successes and failures, and many private thoughts that I wish to share with my children so that they may know the young woman I once was. (I have since used this particular exercise countless times during my years as a Jewish educator with students of all ages and observance levels. The answers are always inspiring and revealing.)
I cannot paint a sign on my doorpost to cause the next bank representative to pass over my house as the ancient Hebrews did long ago to protect their homes from disaster. I know the next time the bank comes knocking, I will have no choice but to gather our children, the cat, and our most precious belongings and flee. Since the divorce battle began over eight months ago, we have lost everything of material value. The house is in foreclosure, our retirement is gone, and the lifestyle we once had, though not extravagant, is a thing of the past too. (I write these words by hand; my laptop is just another casualty of the separation.)
Though there is little left, I am broke but not broken. What I do not need I barter or sell for what I want on mommy swaps I have found on Facebook. I consider every outing before piling the kids in the car, as I must conserve gas. I use coupons for everything including my drug store cosmetics that have replaced the Bobbi Brown products I once took for granted. I get $14 haircuts, when I feel I cannot endure my split ends another day. I have learned numerous tricks for saving money, but mostly I have learned to live without. We go to the library for movies and books as a family. We eat dinner at home together. We make art out of our recyclables. I appreciate what I have more than ever. We are better off than most in this world and I am grateful to God for what we have.
While watching an old episode of “Little House on the Prairie” recently with our children, I heard some wisdom that really resonated with me. The more you have, the more you have to lose. Half the household items went to my ex so he could create a comfortable home for the children when they are with him. I am purging our house of everything we do not need, getting down to bare necessities not only in preparation for the inevitable move when the bank finally takes our house, but also because I have learned to recognize during this dark period, that what matters most is illuminated. We do not need stuff. I have assembled keepsake boxes for all three children containing their baby items, artwork, photos and other irreplaceable memorabilia. Someday soon we will leave the only home our children have ever known. I am scared, but I have faith.
This Passover I hope to celebrate my own personal freedom finally. The divorce process has been devastating for all of us in innumerable ways, yet I have learned a great deal too. I am leaving Egypt with only what I can carry on my back and in my heart, confident that God will provide the manna and the water for the difficult journey ahead.