While browsing through old college journals, I recently caught a glimpse of a younger, happier, more confident woman. The bubbly writing belonged to an idealist who hitchhiked around the Middle East, worked at archaeological sites, and attended graduate school overseas.
Today, our children are my greatest joy, but the past few years of struggling with my husband and the divorce process are taking a heavy toll. I do not want my self-esteem to be contingent on my past accomplishments, nor do I want my happiest memories to be of previous decades.
I am proud of myself for getting out of an unhealthy relationship. Nowadays I am plunging the toilet myself, installing batteries and removing bugs and trash from the house. I am raising three very young children, working a full-time job, and teaching on Saturdays to stay afloat, all while far from extended family. I am persevering and finding inspiration and assistance where I can.
Teaching is not new to me. I began working as a part-time religious school teacher years ago during college to help pay the bills. Over the years I have continued to work at a variety of synagogues across the Jewish spectrum in several different states. While the job always necessitates rising early on the weekend and writing numerous lesson plans, mid-term progress reports, and final report cards, the personal gains far dwarf the inconveniences.
This year I am teaching a second grade Hebrew class every Shabbat using a popular workbook that introduces a Hebrew letter each week, as well as a corresponding Jewish value. Invariably I find that the preparation I do for each lesson forces me to perform a cheshbon hanefesh, or a personal evaluation of my own soul. As I struggle through my divorce, I greatly appreciate the weekly exercise and the regular reminder that I need to try harder to rise above the daily drama with divorce attorneys and my husband in order to be the mother and woman I strive to be.
While I believe I am coping well despite current challenges, I know I could be responding better. For this reason, I have started a new journal this year. Below are some excerpts from my writings that illustrate the process I have instituted each week with the assistance of my second grade lesson plans. My hope is that the Jewish value taken weekly from my lesson plans will provide instruction and wisdom that will result in personal improvement. By the end of the year I will have a complete list of Jewish values for surviving divorce from aleph to tav.
Kaf (Kavod–Honor or Glory) I will treat myself better. I will stop punishing myself for our current reality and previous transgressions. I will learn to forgive and I will act honorably.
Lamed (Lashon hara–Gossip) I will do all in my control to guard my tongue and prevent further harm to my spouse and children.
Sin (Simcha–Celebration) I will try to make ever minute with our children joyful and not permit emails, texts, or calls from either my attorney or my husband to steal my focus or hijack my emotions. I will also try to ignore the housework and focus on what truly matters.
Character development is a life-long process and I love that I have the opportunity each week to teach Jewish kids, as well as address my own shortcomings. I rise each day to face new challenges, emboldened by our children and the desire to be strong for them. I know through hard work and critical, honest, self-assessment I will find joy again. Thankfully I have a reliable, longstanding tradition that provides the necessary tools for coping with divorce from aleph to tav.