The Dawn of Personal Redemption
An excerpt from Forty Years in the Wilderness: My Journey to Authentic Living
By Yiscah Smith
On my 50th birthday I woke up to the loneliest, most disconnected and painful day of my life. I had no more energy to continue breathing air into someone else’s body while I myself was becoming lifeless.
On the 50th anniversary of my entering the world I could not even muster up the energy to congratulate myself. What I longed for had evaded me. I envisioned what it would be like to wake up feeling grateful and blessed for having reached this milestone. I envisioned what it would be like to celebrate this special day. I envisioned what others I know may have felt when they awoke on their 50th birthdays. For me though, there was no gratitude, no feeling blessed, and no celebration.
The pangs of utter loneliness and feelings of barely surviving a life journey steeped in darkness and plagued by despair are what greeted me in a cruel embrace.
And from such a dark place of decay, from an almost deathlike existence, came a sudden revelation. All I could do on my 50th birthday was resolve to make a change. Realizing that every moment that I continued to breathe air into my male body severely compromised my integrity to live an honest life, MY life, I understood that I must finally make a choice: I could just stop breathing, OR I could own my gender identity issues and start over. I could make the decision to discover what it would take to become the woman I always knew I was meant to be — destined to be. And I did in fact make that decision. Continuing with the lie that was my life was no longer an option. I was exhausted. I was drained. The daily struggle of living someone else’s life had pulled me apart. I had hit my own spiritual and emotional “rock bottom.”
A part of me wished to go back home to Israel, to my family. A part of me longed to return to Jewish spiritual living. I missed Jewish community and Torah observance. But I knew that if someday I were to return, I would only return in truth. And this meant I would only return as a woman. I was not sure if living my life as a woman would provide me a path back to Judaism, but it was clear that I could never return as a man.
So now on my 50th birthday, right then, I took a “leap of faith,” catapulting past the strangling, suffocating demons wringing the life out of me. At that very moment, I embarked on my gender transition journey, not knowing where it would take me, what I would have to leave behind, nor what I would need to reclaim from my past in order to be truly whole. By trying to be someone else and by trying to live someone else’s life for all those years, my gender dysphoria distanced me from my relationship with God, the one source of strength and nourishment I had always counted on to keep me centered and spiritually alive. Yet making this decision was not so difficult. It HAD to be made. It saved my life! In a flash my dark lonely life became illuminated with the awareness that the time had arrived to begin living the truth!
For 50 years I attempted to control my life. I became painfully aware that I existed as a figment of other people’s imaginations. It was as if “I” the dreamer and the “me” in the dream took on two different lives. A fissure between the two defined my life. My life was other than what I was. The more I tried to control my life, the more it spun out of control.
The decision to once and for all live a life of truth forced me to confront this painful irony. My futile efforts to control that which I could not left me embittered and worn out, and yet ripe and ready for something new. Like a seed planted in the cold, dark earth, from a place of such inner decay, I too could germinate and blossom. To do this, I needed to surrender my false illusion of control. I needed to live my life instead of attempting in vain to control it. I gave up the lie of my life and became open to the possibility of living the truth.
Never wanting to be anyone other than me, I collided with the toxic, self-destructive part of myself, my ego, as I blindly arrived in darkness, groping with no direction in the night of my life. I came out of this crash invigorated, encouraged, and loved by a very different part of myself, my soul—that piece of God within me.
On my 50th birthday, the pivotal moment in my life, the dawn of my own personal redemption, I gave myself the ultimate gift: the decision to begin living a life of authenticity and to honor my own unique personal inner truth. I embraced this gift with an open and broken heart, and have never let go since.
Yiscah Smith is a spiritual activist, Jewish educator and spiritual mentor. She recently published her memoir, “Forty Years in the Wilderness: My Journey to Authentic Living.” Yiscah’s life has been an inspiring and courageous journey of the joys and struggles with her own spirituality, gender identity and commitment to living a life of truth, wholeness and authenticity.
Yiscah lives in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot. She teaches at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and online on the inner meanings of Jewish texts, emphasizing the Torah’s spiritual insights. In her private practice Yiscah provides spiritual guidance for authentic living, both in person and online