This Erev Shabbos the bundle of nerves that I have kept shoving deep down erupted in the form of a fervent, uncontrollable tic: about 5 cm southeast of my mouth, the muscle began to visibly twitch. And continued to do so well into Shabbos. Indeed, the twitch appears to be posed to return at any moment...
Last night, in a classic "aha!" moment, it dawned on me that my living in Brooklyn has been exacerbating the constant "blue" feeling I have been fighting lately. To be specific, I realized that I chosen to stifle some of my previous outlets for self-expression in an effort to be tznius. Case in point- when I moved to Brooklyn, I had cultivated a wardrobe full of many beautiful pastels and somewhat muted colours (green, yellow, orange, purple, etc.). Yet after an initial period, I found myself selecting to wear only brown, black, white and on occasion beige, because these are the colors that everyone else wears. I mean, even when I attend weddings or other simchas, I trot out my one black suit, because people only wear black to simchas, even in the summer. More to the point, whereas previously I would wear clothing that was en vogue, and was a couple of inches below the knee in length, I now assist Kings County by wearing only skirts that clean the sidewalks. Not I am laying sole blame on Brooklyn per se; it has been my choice to wear what I wear...
The thing is though, this past chag we encountered the quintessential Lakewood couple: 20-something, one young child, both working. So I started thinking about Lakewood, and the type of existence of it offers. After all, there all things stem only from frumkeit; if you are a man, you work and learn, and if you are a woman, you work and take care of your children. No television, no Internet...nothing that in any way opens up your life to outside influences. Maybe I should change my attitude about such an existence; maybe it is a reflection on my being on a lower spiritual level that I cannot see myself living there, and indicates somehow that I should improve myself to the point that I could embrace such a lifestyle.
Yet I find also myself pondering whether such an existence is ultimately necessary. Can we not rely upon our yetzer tov to counterbalance our yetzer hara when it comes to Internet, for example? Can I not wear clothing beyond the classic Midwood pairing of all-black accented with an acceptable "colour"(pale pink, brown, beige, or navy) and remain tznius? In brief, if my parents did their job and instilled a true love of yiddishkeit in me, can I not go about my daily life navigating a balance between frumkeit and non-frumkeit and have frumkeit prevail?
As someone who grew up modern, and learned to navigate the secular world while remaining frum, I do not personally feel any urgency to limit myself to a no-TV, no-Internet existence. In fact, I believe that if I had not been exposed to the secular world, I would have been ill-equipped to pursue higher education or even to work in a non-frum environment. Instead, I find myself capable of being the only Jew at my place of work without in any way compromising my Yeshivish morals. I believe I can similarly attend an art gallery if I plan my visit ahead of time so that I can avoid any non-tznius pieces. Or watch TV if I feel the need to watch a nature show, etc.
When I got engaged, a dear friend said to me: "But, he is really frum!" To which I responded, "But so am I". My point then, as now, is that while perhaps I at the time wore pastels and skirts with low slits, I was as frum as my then-fiance. The issue was not that our haskafahs were mismatched but rather that I had not yet surrendered to the external signifiers of Yeshivish Brooklyn. Needless to say, I subsequently caved and began conforming to the de rigeur dress code and mode of speech.
That twilight hour is over however. Having found my level of contentment deteriorating under the requirement to appear Yeshivish, to conform to my neighbours' external displays of frumkeit while being simultaneously assaulted by their equally prevalent display of materialism, I have decided to say "NO MORE". In short, I have decided to return to being who I am so that I can serve Hashem properly, whole-heartedly, i.e., without being distracted by external pressures to "fit in". I accept that I am most probably a round peg in a square hole. But who knows? Maybe by wearing a little colour every once in a while, it will get to the point that nobody will even notice. Or care.