Miriam: More Water Than Woman


I’ve been waiting to die for weeks.


Each day, as we travel through the desert, I put one foot in front of the other, toes slipping in sand, walking on this path and watching as my life’s destination gets nearer and nearer. Sometimes, I’m so weary that I close my eyes and wait to arrive. With my eyes closed tight, I am transported out of the desert. With my eyes closed tight, I am back in the Sea of Reeds, walking in between walls of water.


One foot in front of another.


I look to my right, and catch sight of something in the depths. I squint and strain as the shapes grow closer. All at once, as if a veil has been removed, the water clears, and I can see the faces of my mother, my aunts, my grandmother, her grandmother. I am overwhelmed by the sight of all of the women who have come before me. Their eyes are dim but content. They no longer suffer. They no longer hurt. They no longer yearn. They simply are. Now and always.


They open their arms to me. They are waiting for me to join them. I try to turn towards them, but my feet continue straight ahead, and so therefore do I. My mother nods and smiles at me. I realize that it is the same smile she used to wear when she stood in the doorway of our home at dusk watching as her children played in those last stolen moments of the day. It is the smile that says, “It’s almost time, my daughter, but not yet.”


I keep walking, one foot in front of the other. I look to my left, hoping to see more of my foremothers in the darkness of the waters. I see shapes once again, and squint and strain for clarity. The veil lifts, and I discover that there is no content dimness on this side of the waters. Each drop seems to shimmer with light! Amidst these iridescent waves I catch sight of my daughters, my nieces, their daughters, their nieces, and all the women who will come after me.


Their eyes shine with curiosity and passion. Their eyes meet mine with a light so bright it is almost painful. They are hoping that I will guide them. They reach out to me as if to keep me from stumbling, to protect me from the dangers of an aging body. I see in my daughter’s face both the woman who walks with me when my eyes are open and the child she used to be, the child who would beg me to forget my duties and stay with her in our tent. “Please Mama,” she’d say, “You don’t have to go yet. Stay with me a minute longer.”


I walk and I watch as light bounces between the women who made me and the women who I helped to shape.

When I open my eyes, I find myself back in the desert once more. I feel as though I have been washed onto the shore, and the walls of water and women fade from my reality with the incoming tide of consciousness. With my eyes open, I am no longer in the sea. With my eyes open, I am returned to the wilderness and to my journey of anticipation.


I’ve been waiting to die for weeks.


Every day, I spend more and more time with my eyes shut, walking in between the waters. I begin to look forward to my visits to the sea. I close my eyes eagerly and feel joyful as I am transported to my world of water where I can meet the grandmothers that I never knew and the granddaughters that do not yet exist.


I feel strong as I walk with my women. I feel as I did when I was a young girl, bounding across the sea, confident that my body would take me wherever I wanted to go. Sometimes the return to my present, to the body that has survived our wandering, to the woman who is frail and white haired is so shocking, so painful, that I cannot help but weep. I stop anticipating and begin yearning. I yearn for the day when I will be allowed to stay in the waters, to walk into the embrace of the women who have shaped me, to join them in their sea of contentment and peace.


One night, when our caravan has finally stopped for the day, my family helps me into the tent that they’ve constructed for me. My daughter stokes the fire that will ease the aches in my bones; my niece takes off my sandals and begins to untangle my hair. As she unravels the heavy braid that winds down my back, I hear her catch her breath, and see her exchange a questioning look with my daughter, who hurries over to join her cousin. And then the face I’ve seen shining brightly in the waters is very close to mine. “Mama,” she asks gently, “Your hair is wet. There hasn’t been enough water for us to bathe in weeks and weeks. But your hair is wet. How can that be?”


I look to the heavens in gratitude, smile my mother’s smile, and say, ““That means that it’s almost time, my daughter, it’s almost time.”


She doesn’t understand and that is as it should be. I pray that she won’t return to the water for many, many years.


I watch as she and my niece try to hide their fear for me, hurrying around, tidying my belongings, feeding the animals, preparing everything for the next day, a day that I know that I will not have to face.


I wonder if I should try to memorize their faces, but then I remember that I’ve seen them in waters. Even still, I keep my eyes open wide all evening, knowing that it will be the last one that I spend in the desert.


Hours pass, the sky darkens, my head begins to bob, and I can feel myself beginning to sink into my sea. My daughter helps me to my bedroll and my niece brings over the blanket that has been warming near the fire. They kneel on opposite sides of me, working together to make sure that I am completely covered, that no part of me will be cold or uncomfortable during the night. I reach out to them, and they grasp my hands eagerly and carefully.


“Let me tell you a story,” I say. Their eyes meet over my head, mirror images of concern and confusion. But they sit on either side of my bedroll, their faces open, ready to listen to whatever I will tell them.


“My brothers often speak of the Power that created all things,” I say, “They tell us of the One who pulled dust from the ground and formed the first being. Maybe they’re right. Maybe men were created from dust. But I know that women were created from water.


We are born in a rush, spilling from the watery protection that our mothers provided. The tides of our bodies are pulled by the moon. We are not hard, brittle things like those that live in the desert.


We are powerful with unknowable depths. We are tempestuous and tranquil. We are vast and magnificent. Each of us are drops of water in the sea of humanity. At the beginning of our lives, our mothers pull us from the Well of Life, and, at the end of our lives, our daughters, our nieces, and the women we’ve guided help us to return to that source. I have been waiting to die for weeks, and each day, I’ve spent more and more time walking in between the waters.” I clasp their hands with as much strength as I can find and say, “Tonight, I am more water than woman. I know that when I close my eyes, I will join the women I’ve come from, and we will watch over the ones who are yet to be.”


We weep together for a while, three women clinging to one another not with desperation but with gratitude. Finally, my energy spent, I lie back on the pillow that they had prepared for me. My daughter brushes my damp hair off my forehead and my niece wipes the tears from my face. I know that both will remain next to me for as long as it takes. They will protect me as I return to the Well.


I can hear the gentle lapping of the tide’s return, I can feel the chill of the river’s rushing. I know that it is time.


I am more water than woman.


I take one final breath of desert air, close my eyes, and slip beneath the waves.


#Miriam #Midrash

© 2021 by Rabbi Rachel Bearman.