I remember learning once that after you die, when God calls your soul up for evaluation and judgment, among those called to testify -- for you or against you, as the case may be -- are the walls of your home. The idea is that your walls portray who you truly are, since they have seen what you did, and heard what you said when no other person was there to take note or to remember.
This idea also contains within it another idea -- that our deeds and words have spiritual impact, that they affect our surroundings in such a way to even leave spiritual traces in the walls around us.
These ideas are vaguely terrifying. Perhaps they're meant to be. Certainly this reminder -- one of many I've received over the last few years -- that God notes everything I do and say, and knows all the thoughts of my heart, has made me try harder (sometimes, not often enough) to be good and to do right, on the grounds that when I stand before my Creator I would rather not be embarrassed by what my walls have to say.
Still, these ideas were for me more intellectually than emotionally felt, until last Shabbat, when I learned a whole new way of looking at walls.
I spent last Shabbat with a new friend, a woman who attends the same lunchtime Torah class that I do. She invited me a couple of weeks ago, and I accepted with pleasure, thinking how lovely it would be to meet her family and friends, pray at a different synagogue, and see another part of the local Jewish community.
My friend lives some distance away from her synagogue, so she arranged for us to eat lunch at the house of the rabbi (who was out of town) so that we would not have to walk all the way back in the heat and sun of midday.
We ended up spending the whole afternoon there, and I was told that if I wanted to lie down and rest (ahh... the joys of a Shabbos nap!) I could use the room of the rabbi's oldest daughter.
So my friend's teenage niece showed me into the room and began talking animatedly about the various posters and drawings on the walls, the songbooks stacked neatly on the desk, the photographs scattered around the room. As she spoke, her genuine admiration was evident for the young woman whose lovely, joyful face smiled down at me from several of the photographs in the room.
In a matter of minutes, she and my friend had sketched a glowing picture of a beautiful soul, a person who had in her 22 or so years on this earth managed to help her father run a Hebrew school, tutor children with learning disabilities, stage theatrical productions for the women of the community, and befriend most of the children and adults in her neighborhood. Then they backed out of the room, smiling and wishing me a good nap.
I closed the door and looked around the room. The posters and the songbooks, the long row of Torah books lined up on the desk, the drawings and the pictures on the walls, all whispered to me that I was in a room where a good person lived. I moved to take a closer look at a collage of photographs and poems this young woman had once made for her parents. I scanned the pictures and moved my eyes to the middle of the collage, to a brief hand-written message of love and appreciation for all that parents do in raising their children.
And I found myself crying. I wept because the very walls around me were singing with this young woman's goodness, joy, and purity of heart.
I also wept for myself, not knowing if I will ever be filled with the same measure of goodness, joy, and purity of heart.
Yes, I do know that when I emerged from the mikvah as part of my conversion to Judaism last month, I had a new soul, a new Jewish name, and all of my sins were forgiven. And I know that the Almighty grants us the awesome gift of forgiveness when we truly regret our mistakes and do teshuva.
But I wished at that moment that I did not need to be forgiven for quite so much. I know that I can truly connect to God if I work at it long and hard enough. But how much more intense might that connection have been if I had not said all those things that weren't necessary to say, if I had not passed up so many chances to do kindness to other people, if I had not persisted in maintaining relationships in which there was no spark of holiness?
I don't think, though, that my regret contained within it any note of despair. As I stood in that room, listening to what the walls had to say about this young Jewish woman, I covered my face and prayed. I did the only thing I could do -- I begged God to trust me enough to send me daughters and sons so that I can try to raise them in such a way that they too will be filled with the joy of being Jewish, of knowing their Creator, and of doing good for all humanity.