When I was a child, I spent a lot of summers at my grandmother's house in Santa Rosa, California. She lived on a leafy street across from a large ranch home with a working orchard. Down the street was a park lined with California Laurel and Eucalyptus trees that perfumed the air, especially when it was hot.
As I write this post, I can still smell those trees and recall the palpable heat of July in Santa Rosa. My grandmother loved to walk, and we would spend at least a hour every Saturday walking in that park.
Then I would go home, develop a horrible headache and a churning stomach, and lay motionless for the rest of the evening, unaware of what was wrong with me.
After I grew up and moved to Humboldt County for college, I discovered that I was extremely sensitive to California Laurels. They give me a horrible headache.
True, I have beautiful and sentimental memories of walking with my grandmother in that park, of sharing those times with her, but I would never want to return to
that time, or to that park. In fact, whenever I visit northern California, I make it a point to avoid large expanses of California Laurel trees--for obvious reasons.
Strangely enough, if you read about the California Bay Laurel Tree, you will quickly find that it is used to treat headaches, it repels insects, and it has a lot of great medicinal qualities . . . for other people.
I have learned, as I grow older, that what may bring comfort and solace to others may be painful to me.
I am baal teshuva--a Jew who became religious later in life. The biggest reason I became religious was that it was painful for me to live a secular life. I couldn't do it one more day. There are a lot of other reasons too--of course--but that is for another column on another day.
Today, I want to talk about Valentine's Day.
Many who grew up religious seem to think that those who converted or became religious later in life "miss" the things we gave up when we became religious. They assume we live every day with the "painful" knowledge of what we gave up to become religious. They shake their heads in awe of our strength in giving up all that "great" secular stuff to live a religious life.
In truth, the opposite holds for me.
I never even realized this fully until the moment I decided to reclaim Judiasm in my life. Broaching the subject carefully with my sons, I said, "This means we won't celebrate Christmas."
I was expecting them to be upset, but instead, they were relieved: "Thank goodness!" one son said, "You were so upset every Christmas! You always cried. We hated it." The others nodded in agreement.
Just like the walks I had with my grandmother, I had been celebrating holidays with my family, then experiencing the pain later. It wasn't until later in my life that I realized the cause of my pain.
Although secular versions of Christmas, Easter, Halloween and Valentines were celebrated in my youth, and I hold beautiful memories of my family at those celebrations, they hold the same place in my mind as those walks with my grandmother. Yes, I enjoyed them. I love my family. I love the memories I have with my family. I still go to those celebrations even just to be there with them.
However, I also understand the pain of celebrating holidays that I knew, deeply, are not for me. I make a point to avoid them--for obvious reasons.
So, this is my ironic Valentine's wish: "Please! My dear husband, my loving family, my dear friends--don't give me a Valentine!" A Valentine may be beautiful and beneficial and even healing to many people--but it would cause me great pain.
I am Jewish. I am happily, contentedly, and completely Jewish. Send me Jewish wishes on Jewish holidays, but please don't give me a Valentine.
It gives me a headache.