Looking back from my current vantage, it seems odd to me to have invested so much time, money and passion in a hobby. But I was younger then and the SCA meant a lot more to me. One of the reasons it means somewhat less to me today, of course, was because we fought and lost, and the creeping tide of bureaucracy and centralization gradually ate away at the ability to have fun. But in reality life events such as the birth of Aaron and my movement away from a job that gave me lots of free time to jobs that gave me almost no free time.
There are a lot of people I number among my closest friends whom I know through the SCA, and some of them were either with us in CSOS formally or in spirit. And we won attorney's fees, which kept me from owing a lot of money at a time I couldn't afford it. As with most lost causes, it ended up being just a footnote in the longer narrative of history. But I can't regret having taken part.
Aaron: There is a limit to how much I will say about Aaron, as it is important to respect his privacy online. Besides, any answer seems inadequate. I can't think about Aaron without the warm feeling of love and pride coupled with absolute terror that I will somehow screw things up or something out of my control will go wrong and hurt him. The intellectual knowledge that it is impossible to protect him from everything (and that it would be counterproductive and bad to try) does not help.
Aaron is the sweetest and most wonderful human being I have ever known, and he can drive me crazy like no one else in the universe can. What worries me most is the world he will inherit. In this, I suppose, I am no different from many other parents.
Prayer: My relationship to prayer is odd. I believe that formal prayer in my tradition is transoformative -- even when you have no idea what you are saying and not paying much inner attention. At a minimum, prayer is the feudal incident owed to the King of Kings for the bounties of the world and the gift of another day. Ideally, it is more than that. But I find it very hard in my life to rise above the most basic levels. So I work on that.
I take comfort in prayer and ritual as creating a bond between me and God and me and the Nation of Israel. I find it deeply gratifying that my first acts of the day are ritual and prayer, as are my last acts of the day. Even the mechanical blessing before eating is useful to me -- even when it is mechanical. This is why I am not a big fan of changing the liturgy or waiting for when the spirit moves me. Prayer is a spiritual exercise -- a Toastmaster's Course for talking to God. It links me inextricably in my every action, from the most mundane action of taking a dump to the most sacred action of washing the dead. Indeed, many times when I say the asher yatzar (the prayer after using the bathroom) I am reminded of my Grandfather Feld and his final illness, when his prostate was so swollen he could not even urinate properly. The body works, and it is a pleasant thing when it does. It's useful to pause a moment afterward and thank God for it.
Personal prayer is another matter. I have always felt God's presence in the world as a close, personal and caring presence. In the distraction of the world, this is easy to forget. And when I am angry and frustrated at the universe, I whine and wail like any other child frightened by my incomprehension and the feeling that somehow it is not fair that things should not order themselves to my wants and desires. One of my continuing regrets in the last few years is I have so little chance to get away from the noise and distraction and simply listen for the Still Small Voice (Kings I 19:12). There's more.
There always is. But this seems as good a place to stop as any.
Tzadikim Nistarim: Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth, ztzl. It was my privilege to be taught by him and much of what I am and became is due to his influence (including his advice that I not go back for a second year in yeshiva and go to law school instead). It was bitterly disappointing to me that on the day of his death and memorial service in the U.S. I was in Las Vegas on business and unable to attend.
The Tzadikim Nistarim, lit. trans "hidden righteous." Refers to the legend that there are 36 righteous men and women hidden in the world whose good deeds preserve the world. They are, by nature, modest and filled with humility. They do what is necessary because it is required for a greater destiny they sense but do not see -- and do so with love and joyfulness of spirit.
Rabbi Wohlgemuth was a brilliant man. Trained at the Berlin Seminary in the early 1930s and with a degree in Classics, multilingual, a leader of an established Jewish community at a very young age, and a man who endured early imprisonment in Dachau after following Krystallnacht. When God engineered that he should come to America, he could have used his natural talents to build a new career, either in higher education or as a pulpit Rabbi or even in some non-Rabbinic field. Instead, he lived the quiet life of a high school Judaics teacher. His course, Be'ur Ha'tefillah "explanation of the prayer," was critical to me and many others in understanding not merely the daily and Sabbath prayers, but understanding our relationship with God.
All of this fails to capture his personal middot, the warmth and love and approachability that made him such a successful teacher and role model. There were times in my tumultuous youth when it would have been very easy for me to conclude that all those who spoke for God were hypocrites or idiots or bullies, except for a living example to the contrary whom I could see every day in class or in the halls.
Poetry: Hail poetry! One of my many regrets these days is insufficient time to write poetry. I love structured poetry, as I find it a greater challenge to create something that can evoke an emotion (or many) in a formal, structured environment using clearly stated rules. I once heard an art student say that in any art school you learned how to draw using standard techniques before you got to express yourself and experiment, because breaking the rules doesn't mean anything if you don't know the rules and can't follow them anyway. There is something to be said for that for poetry. A formal style is a test of skill, and someone who can carry it off deserves the highest respect.
I find the act of creating poetry to be enormously satisfying when it comes together, enormously frustrating when it does not. I have a sympathy for those places and cultures that refer to poets as "makers" and who believed that poetry had power to create immortality and change the world. Poetry is the language of prophecy, and the language of madness. It departs from prose in its ability to transport us emotionally with an economy of language, and by bringing together the power of language to convey ideas and emotions in a unique structure it makes the inaccessibly Divine and the inaccessibly insane accessible to the emotion and the intellect.
Ideology: Ideology gets a bad rap these days, but that's because it is so misunderstood by those who have it. An ideology which gives shape and meaning to the world is a useful foundation -- provided you can distinguish between what you can prove and what you can't. I think of myself as ideological because I have beliefs that shape my interpretation of the world which are not amenable to scientific proof. There is no way to prove, for example, that we should try to make the lives of people we do not know better. It is an ideological choice based on a set of beliefs that are not provable. For me, it flows logically from certain precursor beliefs (e.g., God created the world and all human beings in his image, gave us the Torah to guide our behavior). But I don't mistake that for proof that another can accept.
The chief error of most ideologues is that they take their irrational belief for self-evident reality. Denial of this reality can only be attributed to ignorance or willful stubbornness. The next error is the belief that multiple ideologies are incompatible, or that good things can occur in the mingling of ideological actors. I shall note that the fact that I believe an ideology can be a good thing does not mean that all ideologies are good. I'll add that the most irritating thing about most folks who profess to despise ideology is that their arguments usually would rate a C in a freshman philosophy class, and often rely on simplistic arguments and apparent contradictions.
Job Satisfaction: "Here then is what I have seen that is most exceedingly good for a man: to eat and drink and see good in all the labors that the Lord assigns him to work all the days of his life that God gives to him, for this is his portion. For every man to whom God gives riches and possessions -- and also grants him the ability to enjoy them, and to take his portion -- let that man rejoice in his labors, for this is a gift from God. For his memory shall soon pass, therefore God answers him by giving joy to his heart." Eccl. 5:17-19.