by Lisa Dee Port White, Mikveh Guide
Last week I was driving down Washington Street and decided to pull into the Mayyim Hayyim parking lot. I wanted to see if it might be possible to immerse. I have wanted to for months, thought about making an appointment, thought about dropping in, and each time, I’ve done nothing to follow up. There are a few reasons for not following through: timing, forgetfulness, etc., but the real reason was shame. I haven’t been actively guiding for months now, and while it’s not like I just disappeared (I let them know I needed to take a break), still, I wasn’t doing my part. I know very little about what it takes to run Mayyim Hayyim, but I do know that it needs its volunteers.
Another thing I know is that it’s not great form to just drop by and see if the mikveh is available. Mayyim Hayyim is a busy place. In addition to the thousands of immersions that happen every year, there are tours, education programs, art exhibits, talks, meetings, and celebrations.
Carrie Bornstein, the Executive Director, was in the reception area having a meeting with someone and she greeted me warmly, despite my interrupting her. She called Lisa Berman (Mikveh and Education Director), interrupting her meeting, to make sure the mikveh was free. Leeza Negelev (Associate Director of Education) came down, interrupting her work, to be my guide.
I’d never met Leeza before, but I immediately liked her—she was kind and open and warm—she made me feel safe and welcome and cared for by: a) smiling, b) not acting as if I was rude and inconsiderate and thoughtless for just showing up, c) offering me the opportunity to check out the rituals available, d) making sure the room and mikveh were ready before bringing me back, and, e) treated me like a guest, like any other person coming in to immerse. When I offered to help put the cover back on after my visit, she said, “You’re not here as a guide, you are here to immerse: just be here.” And I immediately started to get teary.
I really needed to be there. To just be there. To pause, and prepare, and let myself be held in the warm waters of Mayyim Hayyim.
This has been a tough winter in the Boston area. With all the snow, school delays, snow days, and school vacation, my family was not the only one feeling hemmed in. Beyond that, though, it had been a tough few months, personally. Nothing catastrophic, just hard. I know the difference. But even though hard isn’t catastrophic, it is still, well, hard, and that can be exhausting and bring up all kinds of other hard—like grief and sadness and maybe a little depression. So, for some time, I have reined in, pulled back, offered less, like not signing up to guide.
I could not remember the last time I had immersed.
I took my time in the prep room, not lingering, but not rushing. I removed the nail polish from my toes. I remembered that I’d stopped getting pedicures a few years ago when I was immersing regularly. When I was in the shower, as I washed my hair, I felt the earring I had forgotten to remove, and took it out.
After all the soap and shampoo was rinsed off, I wrapped myself in the sheet and went to the door separating the prep room from the mikveh. I took a breath and entered my favorite room in the world. I never move quickly, but sometimes I rush. I did not want to rush this. I hung the sheet up on the hook and stood before the steps leading into the water—the first two dry, the rest with my feet submerged.
Hineni, I am here. Please guide my steps. Buoy me with Your Spirit.
Privilege is a popular topic these days and as I dressed, I wondered if I had used my mikveh-guide privilege when dropping in. I am also a member of Mayyim Hayyim; would my being a (small) financial supporter of the mikveh mean I would be treated in a privileged way? Was I counting on that when I ‘just dropped in?’
Gathering the damp towels and sheet, I decided it wasn’t privilege that allowed me to immerse, (although it probably allowed my presumption to ask). What allowed me to immerse was my need for it and fortunately the mikveh was available. I think Leeza recognized something of that when she was asked to be my guide.
People don’t just show up at the mikveh because they want a shower and a quick dip. We come because something has shifted and it is time to move from one state of being to another. We come because there is nothing else that manifests that transition; we come to be embraced and buoyed and held by the living waters. And really, everyone who walks through the door is welcomed the same way. But, next time I will make an appointment.
Lisa Dee is a member, a mikveh guide, and a big fan of Mayyim Hayyim. She works as a massage therapist, providing gentle, intentional, non-medical touch to oncology, medically fragile, and hospice patients of all ages in their homes, hospitals, or skilled nursing facilities. She has found a new passion in fiber arts and spends much of her free time hooking rugs.