Friday, November 2, 2012

Lost in Limbo

"Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn't mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn't particular. - “Huckleberry Finn” (Mark Twain) 

Welcome to the pearly gates of Glorious Heaven. Angels in white nightshirts and cherubs in togas roam the place playing annoying harp melodies. In Heaven only believers roam the halls, but no religion agrees on what defines a believer, so in heaven, all these earthly fights between ardent religious followers reach their crescendo. In Heaven, I'm reunited with every annoying cousin and uncle that will pinch my cheek, remark how tall I have grown, and remind me to call my grandmother more often! Oh, How wonderful that sounds. 

Then there is Hell. I picture hell as an underground dance hall where blood red curtains are blowing against the brickstone walls. In these halls, heretics roam freely. How I would love to take a walk down to hell! Can you imagine the conversations between Aristotle, Bruno, Galileo, Darwin, Descartes, Spinoza and the myriads of other great minds who have been labeled heretics. My ears are tingling in anticipated eavesdropping.  

Almost all religious beliefs all have some version of the afterlife. It is after all the perfect solution to keep the minions in line without an active policing force. The idea that all of our actions are carefully monitored and later to be calculated by the Great Accountant in the sky has proven to be quite effective. Heaven and Hell are a peculiar concept, one that I find has no place in my rationale. 

But there is a third possible afterlife, one I find strangely relevant. Catholics call it Limbo. Dante, in his book Inferno, describes Limbo as "Dark, profound it was, and cloudy, so that though I fixed my sight on the bottom I did not discern anything there". It is supposed to be the place that souls that never found Christianity are suspended in. There are similar ideas expressed in different religions, but Limbo is one that fits so perfectly with what I'm trying to express. Dante describes the people he met in Limbo. "People were there with eyes slow and grave... they spake seldom, and with soft voices". These days, especially nights, my eyes are now slow and grave, I speak seldom and when I do my voice is soft, not a soft, sensual voice, but a soft defeated one. 

People are in Limbo, as Virgil explains to Dante, because they were born in the wrong time and the wrong place. Oh I can't count how many times I have thought about that. Make no mistake, I do love my family very much, my parents have done everything that they deemed right. But oh how I play with the idea of being born in a different place. Perhaps somewhere where I am not judged based on how much I mirror my parents’ beliefs. A place where I will not hurt the ones I love just by living a life that mirrors the most authentic version of me. 

That is why I am stuck in Limbo. On one side I witness simple, seemingly happy people leading their lives in anticipation of heaven, shutting off their minds to the vast inconsistencies in their everyday behavior. The are following a clearly marked and illuminated path, and I can see young pliable children morph into a predefined mold. They appear to be happy, and perhaps they are, but on closer look I see only ignorance and mental subservience .Their innocence is only usurped by their elitist self-righteousness as they mentally cluck at these who they already picture in eternal damnation. 

Over the other shoulder, I see complex and intriguing people. People who never allow others to dictate their behavior. They appear to be coloring outside the lines, but when one looks closely you can see that they have just created their own lines. It might appear to be a chaotic scene, but all I see is freedom and tolerance. In the distance I can still clearly see shackles lying neglected on the ground.The shackles look quite familiar, and when I look down and I see them anchoring me. Shackles of religious beliefs, Shackles of communal expectations, shackles that tell me what I can and cannot do, or even think!

 I am stuck in Limbo. I cannot go right, because every cell in my body will reject living a life in complete contradiction to the authentic me. But I cannot go left, because what I realize is that these shackles were put there by those I don’t want to lose and what I see as a shackle that hinders me, they see as a jewel that enhances me.

Apparently being in Limbo provides a unique perspective. By being in these position, I can clearly see how so much that is sacred on the right, is secondary to significant topics that are never addressed.  

Ultimately, Limbo is a lonely and sad place to be. But Dante does list some he saw in Limbo: He met greats like Democritus "who ascribes the world to chance"; He saw "the moral Seneca, Euclid the geometer and Ptolemy, Hippocrates, Avicenna, Galen".

 I take some relief in being in such great company, but I eagerly await the day I can release my shackles and walk into the sunset, through the gates of Hell.

Never be told!


  1. To me, Limbo is like a coffee shop where I sit and wait. The 'in-between place' between places I'm supposed to be. Another thing that struck me as I read this blog post is your "shackles" which were put there by the people you love. I'm in the same place of thought as well, and it is a kind of Stockholm Syndrome where, although I don't agree with what has been inculcated into me, I am in a place where I still have a strong sense of connection with my spiritual captors and don't want to release those shackles to keep from hurting those I love. Your words surely resonate with me. Thank you for your post and so glad I have subscribed to your blog.

    1. Thanks Zollie! If my Limbo was a coffee shop- That would be quite heaven-like! :) Ahh the smell of brewed beans! Stockholm syndrome is something I thought a lot about in association to many of the defensive statements I hear about religious beliefs- and to see it in such a strong level as I see it in some of my Hasidic friends is just saddening! I do like to hear that my attitudes can be relevant to all sorts of religious followers because I do think that there is a common link between all religion in a certain sense- especially in the way they hold their followers captive!
      Thank you for subscribing!

  2. As someone who was born and raised in Conservative Judaism, the UO have always seemed so alien to me while at the same time feeling connected through our shared heritage. Much like a third cousin, twice removed. I can't help but wonder if all those in the insular UO community who have journeyed down the path of doubt, as you have, actually came "out of the religious closet" how many truly observant Jews would be left in the American shtetls. The irony is that the UO not only must contend with that which is mandated by Torah but also those numerous man-made non-halachic restrictions designed to protect it's adherents from the "goyim" (the N-word for everyone less observant then them). though many would argue it's all man-made. As an outsider, it appears that it is these very repressive and non-halachic restrictions that are in fact driving many away, not just from the UO community but from Judaism as well. My experience as a Conservative Jew is that while yes we tolerate a wide range of Torah observance, from "Conservadox" to near-Reform, it is that very tolerance that keeps many from rejecting the whole of Judaism. We have the luxury and freedom to accept that which "makes sense" to us and to reject and toss aside that which is inane and pointless (Kosher water and toilet paper just two examples). When one's association with a particular religion is all black and white, with no shades of grey, than many perceive their only choices to be OTD or off. Being Conservative, we don't have to choose Judaism or nothing, as the wide latitude of acceptable observance allows for choice all the while being able to continue to identify as Jewish. May your journey continue to lead down the path to your "true" self.

    1. I meant to say: many perceive their only choices to be : accept Judaism or reject it.

    2. Very nice comment, Anon. Thank you.