It has taken me a bit of time to write this, and I think it is because of how nervous I was before going.
I am going to be training to work in a mikvah, and part of the requirement for the training is to go into the mikvah. I signed up for this course because I work with many women (so far no men) that will go to the mikvah. This organization is one that guides people into the mikvah not only because of nida, but also because of other life situations, and I figure it would be a really great tool for me to have as I am about to finish my rabbinical studies very soon.
It took me a long time to sign up for my mikvah slot. I was really nervous. It felt like it was such a big act for me to go into the mikvah. It is not something that I have ever really thought about for myself. It is something that you do if you are married or are having sex, and I fall into neither category. It is something that some do because they are more “spiritual” than I am, marking changes in life or wanting to feel “pure” or “changed” or to mark the transition, but that is not me for the most part. I would also have to be naked with another person in the room, which also made me nervous.
I did sign up, because I needed to. In some ways, it was good because earlier this year I felt the need to go into the mikvah or go swimming naked, but I did not have an opportunity.
It was something that I thought about all day Wednesday. I was thinking about what it means that I am going into a mikvah as a non-married woman; what would other people think if they saw me; what would I say to someone if I saw someone I knew in the waiting room. I had ideas that my first time in the mikvah would be before my wedding. It would be a time that I learned and prepared for. That the next day (or upcoming days) would be when I would have my wedding.
I was also thinking about what it means that it is happening now. I was thinking about the fact that I have basically decided that I will be in NY for another year. I really am marking a change in my life. That the world and life that I had, really is not what I have right now. I am finishing school in only 53 days. I will be starting a real job, be it not my dream job, nor in the city I dreamed I would be in. I am not who I was a year ago.
I was also thinking about what it means to be naked with another person in the room. Even when going to the doctor there is a something covering parts of my body, but here I would be naked, not that the person would look. It has been an interesting year with thinking about my body and nudity. I had a relationship that was quite physical. I’ve been having a conversation with a friend that is very explicit, including pictures, which is different. I’ve been thinking more about my body than I have in years- not in a negative way. And here I would be completely naked, walking into a body of water, with someone else inside.
I got to the mikvah early, and so I took a walk around the block, just trying to calm my nerves. I walked trying to accept NY as a place that has beauty, that can be a place that will give me happiness and fulfillment, that I am making the right choice. As it became closer to the time, I got the Mikvah, but I could not bring myself to walk in. The guide I was meeting said that she would meet me outside or I can wait inside, and I just couldn’t bring myself to walk in. As I finally walked to the door, she was there to greet me.
She was really sweet and patient. I felt silly that I was so nervous but I was. There were so many options as to what I would do in the mikvah, and making the choice was just too over whelming. I felt weird about saying a bracha, because I wasn’t doing this for something other than myself. I didn’t want to say shehechiyanu because I didn’t want this to be real. At first I did tell her I wanted her to watch me go down once. I was unsure if I wanted time alone in the water.
And then it was time to prepare. The bathroom is beautiful with everything that one could need. In a bathroom full of mirrors, I slowly took off my glasses, my necklace, and finally all of my clothing. I was trying to breath through all of this. I got into the shower and showered as usual. I was trying to slow down a bit because I was so nervous, but at the same time I didn’t want her to have to wait for too long. I did not know the time frame that I should be taking. After finishing my shower I went through the check list of things to do – I brushed my teeth, I cleaned out my ears and belly button, I brushed my hair, and took out my nose ring. I then put on the slippers and my robe and walked down the hall.
I was naked under my robe, and I would be taking it off soon. I would be walking into a body of water and everything of me will be touched with the water. I was nervous, and scared, and sad, and excited…
I walked into the mikvah and the guide told me what would happen. In the last minute I did not want her to say anything or check that I went under. Being in the water felt different. It was warm. It was a bit overwhelming. She was standing at the top the stairs with the robe over her eyes. I dunked once, and then immediately felt the need to dunk two more times. I wanted to just stay under the water for as long as I could – to feel the pressure, to feel the warmth, to take in the experience – but I kept bobbing up, it was pushing me out. I thought about staying in the water, but I was too overwhelmed in it. I was unsure of what to do. I both felt calmed and that I couldn’t breath. And so I just walked back up the stairs, put my robe back on and went to get dressed.
It was when I got back into the bathroom that I started crying. There was just so much, and I’m still not even sure what it was. I cried because I felt calmer. I cried because I hope that this is not the only time that I would go to the mikvah. I cried because I am afraid that I will never go to the mikvah for my wedding. I cried because I felt like I wanted to do more, but it just felt like too much.
I was too nervous this time to have a kavanah for going in. I was too overwhelmed to think about what I really wanted or what I wanted to feel.
I do know that after leaving the water, I was warm, in some ways too hot. I was tired. I was calm. I got dressed and brushed my hair. I went upstairs, and luckily no one was there so I didn’t have to see anyone, paid the fee. And walked out into the cold NY air slightly sad, slightly floaty, slightly in thought, and all together calmer than I was when I walked in.