There have been a few inquiries. What was the mikvah like? How did it go? What does your husband think? While I know this "mikvah" thing is supposed to be private (at least I am told that we are not supposed to talk about it), I am totally willing to share this first experience with the world. Okay, not the world. Just my readership. If there is one. Hello?
The beginning of this story is me in the closet. Looking for shoes. Sick to my stomach. My husband in on the bed. Or near the bed. He is wondering aloud why I am doing this if I am so nervous and worked up about it that I am making myself sick. Knowing me, I probably said something not too nice back to him. I tend to do that when I am nervous or not feeling well. It is true. I am nervous. I am standing in the closet taking deep breaths. Complaining about my stomach. Stressing about insignificant details, like shoes. Hair. Clothes.
It isn't the act of immersing I am worried about. It is something more basic than that. It is about interacting. New social situation. One where I can and most likely will (in my imagination) say or do something wrong. Call myself out. Be an idiot. Social anxiety is something most people don't know that I suffer from but I do. So the story starts with me talking myself out of this anxious situation because my will to begin performing this mitzvah is strong.
Of course, I am there early. Thirty minutes. I sit in the parking lot. A big van (the Orthodox-van-that-can-transport-all-11-kids-at-once van) pulls up next to me. I look over. It contains only a man with a black hat and a woman. They are fighting. They are RIGHT NEXT TO ME. It makes me nervous. I wonder if they will pull away before 9 p.m. so that I don't have to get out of the car in front of them. They do eventually pull away. A few feet. I take the opportunity to make a run for it.
Actually, I walk. To the front door. Enter the code. Turn the handle. Enter. The mikvah attendant is there. She smiles warmly at me and says, "You must be Kimber." I smile. She tells me she has a room all ready for me. She guides me there. I notice she is tiny. Tiny like Rachael. I have to look down to talk to her. She shows me the list. She explains. I am to make sure everything on the list is done. I have prepared at home, and she explains I should take a warm shower anyway. She tells me to ring the bell twice if I need anything. When I am ready, I should ring the bell once and slip a small laminated sign that says "Ready" under the door. I should take my time.
I smile in the mirror. To myself. For myself. I think bizarre thoughts like "I am so excited I can barely stand it!" and "What the hell am I doing here?" I undress, take a shower, put on a robe. I browse the list. I notice I need to do a few things. Floss. Clip nails a little shorter. Check for stray hairs. I jump up and down a couple of times then ring the bell. Slip the sign under the door. Wait.
Almost immediately she knocks on the inner door. I walk out and mumble dumb things like, "I don't know what I am supposed to do." She is calm. She takes my arm and guides me to a small place to stand in front of the mikvah stairs. She explains. I will go down the stairs into the mikvah and dip once. She will throw down a washcloth to me. I will cover my head and say the blessing. Then I will dip two more times. After each dip, she will say "kosher" to indicate the dip was acceptable and all of my hair went under.
She checks my fingernails and says they look great. She checks my toenails for polish and again says I did a great job. I out myself having a tattoo and she looks at me in the eye and says that the tattoo is a part of me, of who I am. I should not worry about it. It is fine. Lots of people have tattoos and it is nothing I should be concerned about. She touches my should to reassure me. I completely believe her. She tells me to turn and she lowers my robe to check for stray hairs on my back. There are many because apparently I have become a dog and am shedding. Then she explains she will take the robe and turn around so that I can privately descend into the mikvah.
The water. Warm. Inviting. I notice there are candles lit all around the top of the mikvah and the lighting is low. I briefly think I could live here. She says I can immerse anytime. I do. My back end floats up and I wiggle to go under. I stand up and she says kind words to me. "That was really good. Why don't you try again. Take your time. Just go straight down whenever you are ready."
Yes, I failed the first dunk!
I try again. I really don't like to get my face wet and on the way down, I sniff in some water. I come up coughing like a maniac. She says "Kosher," drops me the washcloth to cover my head and hold a sign with the Hebrew for the blessing. She asks if I would like help saying it. I tell her I think I know it. I say the blessing between wet coughs. I dip again. "Kosher." I dip the last time. "Kosher."
I want to stay in the water. Float. Soak it in. I swim on my back to the stairs and come up. She holds up the robe in such a way as to cover her entire face for my privacy. As I slip into the robe, she says encouraging things like "You did such a wonderful job" and "I am so very excited for you. I love first times." These things flow out of her mouth like a grandmother's love. They are not just spoken at me. They are believable and her calm energy swirls around me.
I go back to the room. Get dressed. Jump up and down some more. I feel alive. Clean. Wrapped in tradition's quilt. I ring the bell and slip the "Waiting to leave" card under the door. She opens the door to let me out on the hallway side of the room. I pay. She writes me a receipt. We do some small talk. Yes, I am from St. Louis. I grew up in Chesterfield. My husband is also from St. Louis. She says she hopes to see me again. I tell her she will. Next month.
When I get home, the baby is asleep in her crib. That rarely happens since we co-sleep. Alia and Chandler are also asleep. The house is spotless clean and the bedroom is lit with candles. I climb into bed and relay to Rob the whole experience. He asks questions. Laughs at me for choking.
Three things stick out in my memory of this experience.
1. DON'T PRE-JUDGE: I think I was super nervous because I was worried about appearing stupid, having a microscopic tattoo, etc. In reality, perhaps I was judging the mikvah attendant. Perhaps I had a preconceived idea about how I would be received. I was wrong. She didn't judge me. I pre-judged her before I ever even walked into the door. To some degree. She surprised me with her gentle, understanding and calming demeanor. She made this the experience it was. If it would have been appropriate, I would have hugged her to thank her.
2. IT IS OKAY TO INCREASE OBSERVANCE EVEN IF YOUR FRIEND-GROUP ISN'T: I made the right choice to begin the observe this. Even though I don't really know anyone else in my friend-group or at my current observance level who is doing this particular mitzvah, such choices are very personal and it is okay to move ahead. This mitzvah really did make me feel connected. It made me proud and I am glad that I decided to begin incorporating this into my practice.
3. DELINEATING TIME IS GOOD FOR BODY, MIND & SOUL: Before and after. A fresh start. A place to re-begin. I left the mikvah feeling refreshed, energized and with good-butterflies in my stomach. Setting this time aside to prepare myself, to get out of the daily routine to do this special ritual has been really nice.