Last October, on the night of my actual 70th birthday, my sister and I flew to Prague. We stayed in Prague for two days before boarding a river boat cruise down the Danube. One highlight was our trip to Terezine, a concentration camp where beautiful Jewish souls were killed during the Holocaust. It was a difficult four hours on a special tour lead by a survivor of that camp. From time to time, her eyes would fill up even though she lead this tour many times.
I have seen many photos and read books where the horrors were brutally detailed. However, walking through that camp, being in actual places where barbaric things happened, I couldn’t help but have a stab of guilt.
Whispering in my ear was the voice of my beloved grandfather, Harry. “Mashinka” he said. “When you grow up, never forget what happened to four of my five sisters. (One of my aunts escaped by coming to America with her brother.) Never forget what happened to six million Jews and other innocent men, women and children. Have children to replenish their lost lives.
His words haunted me after I decided not to have children and remain childfree-by-choice. I would push the guilt out of my mind knowing I couldn’t agree to a lifestyle my heart wasn’t committed to. Children, in my opinion, need parents totally ready, willing and able to accept the responsibilities. I didn’t want them.
Recently, I met our local Rabbi from this area. We participated in a weekly discussion group amongst Muslims, Christians, Jews, non-believers and their leaders. The goal was to learn and grow in understanding of each religion. Differences were accepted, not condemned.The topic of religious expectations, when it comes to procreation, came up. When I mentioned I chose never to have or raise children and, from time to time felt guilty because of the expectation I should have children, the Rabbi spoke.
He said, in his opinion, what we do, here and now to other humans is more important. He mentioned how passionate I was as a teacher. He acknowledged how I touched the future through what I taught and how I lovingly treated those hundreds of children.
I felt a sigh of relief. Although intellectually I already knew that, hearing a clergy-person confirming that was a gift to my life.
What about you? Are you living with any guilt stemming from religious upbringing? Do you still hear people admonishing you for not following the religious expectations to “Go forth and multiply?”
I would love to hear from you.