Life, the Universe, and Everything Jewish: Six Years of Chicago Carless

You might think my big news today is that my blog, Chicago Carless, is six years old. It is, but the buried lede is that tomorrow (or today, by the time you read this) is my forty-first birthday. I did an uncharacteristic thing during my fortieth year: I completed a task I set out to complete before my next birthday. That task was joining the Jewish people–and, boy, were people who know me well blown away that I went through with it.

Oddly enough, I’m not surprised at all. Now that I’ve been officially Jewish for three months, the previous almost forty-one years seem a bit different than they used to. I’ve become aware that they’ve all inexorably been leading up to the discovery of my Jewish soul.

For the past six years on this blog, I’ve groped–as really, do we all–to find the meaning (some meaning? any meaning? know what I mean?) in the unexpected twists and turns of an average American adult life. The gist of those six years of posts (more than 600 in all) boils down to my yearning to know how and why I felt pushed to leave my native New York City home in my early thirties to forge a new life, new career, new friendships–and, ultimately, a new outlook–in a city and region that until then I had only ever considered flyover territory.

And more importantly, throughout the difficulty and heartache that at times has characterized my Midwestern life, why have I always felt that I belonged here, no matter what, for an important, deeply personal reason that just…hadn’t…happened…yet?

Looking back at my past six years’ worth of posts (see the Cliff’s notes in my earlier anniversary posts for this blog’s first, second, third, fourth, and fifth birthdays, as well as my Jewish conversion archive which pretty much covers the past 12 months of year six), I can see clearly how both the searching on my part and the clues I kept getting back from life, the universe, and everything led me to this point. Those who don’t believe in a higher intelligence or power read sentences like that, shake their heads, and sigh.

What do they know?

It’s a wondrous thing to run your heart and mind around the contours of a life experience that only and finally makes sense as the result of a two-way relationship between what you are and whatever made you come to be in the first place. I’ve believed in God for some time, and spent many years as a hopeful agnostic even before. But there are many things that don’t seem accidental anymore, after 41 years of me and six years of my blog under my belt:

  • Growing up in New York City with an almost exclusively Jewish set of friends;
  • In elementary school, wondering why I was being raised into a religion (Roman Catholicism) that I knew wasn’t my own–something I clearly remember thinking as young as eight years old;
  • In college spending hours arguing with my Christian friends that no matter who my parents were and how I was raised, I wasn’t Christian;
  • As an adult, taking pains to make it clear to friends that my Christmas traditions were secular in spirit–and wondering every year why I was continuing them;
  • Having a lifelong sense of being one step away from where I was supposed to be, and because of that always almost but not quite fitting in (in time, in space, in spirit, in general);
  • Feeling an insurmountable urge to leave my hometown–the most Jewish place on the planet outside Israel, but so all-encompassingly Jewish I now know I’d never have figured it out with the answer right under my nose like that;
  • Spending most of the past eight years in Chicago searching, very deliberately, for a spiritual home, as if an egg-timer went off inside of me when I got here;
  • Buddhism, in which I found much wisdom and solace in my thirties, never, ever feeling quite right (likely why I never, ever joined a Buddhist community);
  • My Jewish journey practically popping fully baked out of a box the moment I realized God needed to be a part of my spiritual life; and
  • Not for nothing, the longing I have always felt for my hometown–a place where I choose not to live for secular reasons (yay, Chicago!), but where I know now how–and how deeply–I fit in.

You know, among other things. More than I can find the words to say over my now-tepid afternoon coffee in an Edgewater cafe. Life’s messy like that. But trust me, a lot makes sense now.

There’s a lot I want to accomplish before 42, too. Perfecting my Hebrew (Biblical and modern.) Chanting Torah on Shabbat (I’m learning cantillation now.) Visiting my substantially Jewish hometown, for the first time, as a Jew. (Seriously, who goes to Chicago to become a New York Jew?)

Writing this blog more regularly wouldn’t hurt, either. In fact, now that my journey to Judaism is over, there’s so much more about finally being Jewish that I want to share. A lifetime of topics, really, God-willing. So Happy Birthday, Chicago Carless. Happy Birthday to me. And most of all, baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam she’asani Yisrael.

Finally, and amen to that.

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