“Leave the wood here.” This simple sentence is a defining moment in my life. It is the first decision I make as a newly divorced, single woman and it fills me with much-needed confidence that all of my future decisions can be about what works best for me. A radical shift in thinking from the previous two decades. Eight years later I still feel the emotion of that last-minute decision, as the movers were finishing to put my belongings into their truck.
I am in the garage, staring at this pile of wooden beams and lattice-work panels. I feel a heaviness inside of me, imagining the years ahead of me, burdened by this massive pile of lumber. This wood that, up to now, has been the structure of our annual sukkah. The sukkah, a temporary dwelling that Jews build at this time each year, reminds us of our ancestors. We eat in it and sometimes sleep in it. As we do, we remember the Israelites who wandered for 40 years in the desert, putting up temporary dwellings as they moved, as well as the Jewish farmers, who during the harvest time, needed to sleep next to their fields.
The sukkah is up for just over a week and it is a place for entertaining, reflection, and joy. Yet the resistance I feel as I imagine trying to store, shlep, and with hammer, nails and a drill build a sukkah, alone with young children, feels like a life sentence. And I realize that if this is the only way to build my sukkah, then I’m never going to do it. And that is not okay with me.
I feel a bit reckless as I turn to the movers, letting them know that we will not be taking the wood to our new house. A giddiness rises in me as I realize how liberated I feel, having made this last-minute decision. I google easier-to-build sukkahs and the next day a sukkah that I can manage is on its way to my new home.
The sukkah represents a temporary situation – reminding us of the changing of seasons and life events. It feels appropriate for the change in my sukkah to mark the end of a significant chapter in my life. I look forward to the independence and freedom that the new sukkah will give me, two states of being that I am craving with this emotional and literal move.
How proud we were, eight years ago, as my children and I constructed this new temporary home together on the deck of our new house. I took pictures as we finished each stage of the build, and wrote down the step-by-step instructions simultaneously. I still use that handwritten guide today.
Tomorrow is the start of my ninth Sukkot holiday in this home. And the beginning of yet another new stage of life for me. Nine years later, my three young children have all grown up. I live at home alone for the first time. Building the sukkah this year, I realize that there is one part of it that feels too overwhelming to attempt to accomplish alone. The roof, known as the schach. The natural covering that gives us shade while also allowing us to see stars. Up until now, we would cut down large branches, heavy with leaves, and would place them as our covering. It took a lot of effort and this year, I am not sure if I can commit to continue doing that.
As I did so many years ago, I make a radical decision and order a roll-out bamboo type of covering. This feels simple and easy. I am thrilled that I am still able to take care of my own needs and continue to build this annual sukkah alone. I do not need anyone; I can be completely self-sufficient and do everything by myself.
And here my newest stage of life begins. The package of bamboo is waiting outside of my garage door. It takes every ounce of strength to drag it into the garage. This thing is huge and it is heavy. How in the world am I going to get it up and around to the back of the house and then onto the top of this sukkah? I call my significant other and mention my quandary. He helpfully points out that I’ll additionally need to buy some wooden beams to support the weight of this large bamboo mat, and then a couple more to hold it down.
I feel completely defeated for the next couple of days. This is the opposite of what I was hoping. How am I supposed to be an independent woman if I cannot physically lift the roof of my dwelling alone? I feel silly and weak. I wonder if I’ve made a mistake by ordering the new roof. I’ve let myself down.
And then this same wise man, a few days later, with a pile of newly-purchased wooden beams in his arms, hoisting one after the other onto my now-in-place bamboo sukkah roof, turns from the ladder to say to me, as I stand there sulking, “You aren’t meant to build the sukkah alone. This is something to do with a partner.”
And I let that sink in. I stop fighting for what I thought I wanted and realize that this temporary dwelling has been integral to helping me build a solid, permanent foundation for my new stages of life. And this newest stage of life is filled with companionship and love.