Falling apart can be a slow process, it can take years to even realize it’s happening, and I was pretty far gone, ignoring all the signs until one Sunday at church. You might ask what I was doing at church, and that is a fair question, because I am Jewish. I was there partly to meet my daughter after Sunday school, and mainly to try to save my life and keep my family together. It was a Sisyphean task and trying to accomplish it was the reason I was falling apart. I had reached a point where doing both was impossible. I had to choose between the two.
This particular Sunday halfway through the service my daughter joined me in the sanctuary and carried a borrowed book with her, a pictorial version 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. I was already familiar with it as it was read at almost every wedding I attended when I was in my twenties. We attended church every Sunday, and each week I would sit alone in a side pew waiting for my daughter, crying silently hoping no one would notice. That Sunday I absently opened the book she handed me and began thumbing through it. Each page brought a new wave of pain as I realized that none of those qualities of love so beautifully described and illustrated could be found in my own relationship.
There are defining moments in any relationship; crystalline moments that draw you closer or tear you apart. I had experienced one of the latter already, and the second, and final one was a month or so in the future. This moment was not one of those, it was just a moment of profound and uncontrollable sadness at the state of my own loneliness. To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert ‘the only thing more unimaginable than staying was leaving, and the only thing more terrifying than leaving was staying.’ My hands held the answer in this book, and my heart was broken.
It took me a few more months and that final defining moment to articulate what I could no longer avoid; this relationship was beyond repair and I was not willing to pay the price of living in misery. I cried every day, and making this decision didn’t change that, it just gave me something else to feel bad about, and something to look forward to. I bought that book for my daughter, but truthfully it was for me. I needed to read it over and over, almost as often as I read and re-read Eat, Pray, Love. I needed something, no, I needed many things outside myself confirming that this horrible action I was taking was the right one.
Sitting in that church was one of the things I needed. I would go to this clean, white, beautiful building, and allow myself to feel all the feelings I kept at bay all week. I did not experience any type of conversion, I was not encouraged to accept Jesus as my personal savior (if I had been I would have fled) I was free to sit among my friends who would be sacrificed along with many other huge pieces of my life, in order to rescue myself. That is the salvation I found in church, the salvation of quiet thought, safety of community, the release of emotion and tears, and a map for a love that sounded more like fantasy than reality. I went to church to save my life, and that is exactly what I did.