It Was a Very Good Year

Mishpacha magazine has caught up with BeyondBT. I found the Baal Teshuva Symposium interesting.

I have my own little point that I have made before in comments here, but never as a self-standing post. And if I had been asked to participate, this is what I would have written in response to the question, “How should we respond to a baal teshuvah who speaks of ‘buyer’s remorse’ some years after his return to Torah, due to the sheer difficulty and expense of the frum lifestyle? Due to disenchantment with the frum world? Due to loss of faith or still unanswered questions?”:

It would be wise to recall that many of the roadblocks, much less bumps in the road, that we face as BT’s are merely specialized versions of the rough-and-tumble experience of growing into adulthood… parenthood… middle age… and beyond.

It is easy to assume that the road not taken would have been smooth, well lit and bedecked with clear, accurate signage.

But life really isn’t like that. Many, if not most, BT’s who look back on “before” and “after” are in an “after” that includes marriage, children, a mortgage, a career or two, tens of extra pounds around the middle, in-laws, ageing or dying parents, and general economic stress.

That, by the way, is pretty much, notwithstanding a few of us who have hit it big and seem to have it “easy,” the best-case scenario.

And “before”? My goodness! I will just speak for myself. I was 22; a recent Ivy League graduate en route to a top law school; I had all of my hair and all the color in it; I could not only touch my toes but I could palm the ground!

These seem like trivial things, but they contributed significantly to my emotional well-being. I had a lot to look forward to and every reason to believe it would be a great future, even if I had no credible concept of what that meant.

And it was an all-me future! I could go where I wanted to when I wanted to. No one needed to be driven anywhere or picked up. No one needed me to go shopping. No one else’s physical, emotional, financial or other needs were a daily concern. More: What I did and how I did it concerned and affected me alone.

It was easy to be idealistic, enthusiastic, flexible, relaxed, as well as self-centered, imprudent and rash. It was being 22, not 44 or the 50 I am now approaching.

Of course I feel the weight of life now. Disenchanted? It could happen even under the best of circumstances, or the worst; within the framework of a Torah way of life or the amorphous existence of being “secular.” On some level, for the vast majority of people, it does. We have to come to terms with that.

Ah, yes. When I was 22 and becoming frum, it was exciting! I thought I had found many things that eluded me for my previous life. I thought I could have both this and that. And be 22 forever.

The reality was, of course, different — as it is for everyone who remembers what he thought life would look like at 22 and is fortunate enough to live to be 50. That’s almost three decades of change. Life becomes complicated; or, if you like, life becomes richer. We experience joys we could not image as well as pain both predictable and otherwise. Yes, we learn to appreciate and treasure moments and achievements we had no concept of as overgrown adolescents. But it cannot be denied that the fantasies about the future many of us have surrender to the reality of life in this world. Gravity and time grind us down.

We are, one hopes, better for it — choose your metaphor. Let’s speak of coal that becomes a diamond. It’s still a crushing experience.

Disenchanted? Of course. Unanswered questions? More than ever.

I can say without a moment’s hesitation, however, that if I had made it to this point without having made the choice I did when I was 22, and suffered the same disappointments, struggles and changes — all of which I believe I would have experienced, and maybe even worse — if I had lived even this long but without ch’v Torah and mitzvos to give live meaning and direction… and, frankly, distraction from the pain and the stress, and to give structure to the process by which, as adults, we must become less self-centered …

I don’t even want to think about it.

Buyer’s remorse? When I think I might have that, I pull out the “receipt.” I may be indeed be regretting something, or ruing it — but not necessarily what I “bought” by becoming frum. It’s just growing old. And as my late father always used to say, it beats the alternative.

5 comments on “It Was a Very Good Year

  1. Without authentic Torah Judaism, my mouth would be eating non-kosher foods every day and speaking slander and foul language every day; that is not acceptable; those sins are disgraceful, and I never want to go back to them.

  2. Too many nonreligious Jewish women of my generation never married. If I had not become frum, I am positive I would never have merited the blessing of a husband and children (and now grandchildren). I am overwhelmed by HKBH’s kindness to me.

  3. We all can reflect on roads we might have traveled following our own plans. But HaShem had other plans, which were the best.

  4. Nice post Ron. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

    I would add that if someone has “buyer’s remorse” he apparently does not really know what he bought.

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