The Red Tent has long been my favorite book. To call it “my favorite book” seems almost a disservice to the role it has played in my life. I have turned to it in great times of transition in my life, always taking something new from it, learning, reflecting on my life.
This tale is a “fictionalization” of the story of Dinah (pronounced Dee-nah), the only daughter of Jacob of the Old Testament.
My mother gave me this book to read just after having reached menarche myself, and at the time the idea of living in a society where one’s moon blood is sacred and women celebrate the flowing of life from their wombs seemed almost magical to me.
Dinah herself grows into the role of midwife, and I revisited the book again after having made the decision to seek out this path in life myself.
This time around, I visit my beloved Dinah as a newlywed woman, a midwife in my own right, and reflecting deeply on the path my life with my new husband will take, and the ways in which we dream of our lives unfolding.
The story moves slowly, methodically, beautiful in its detail, as we get to know Rachel and Leah, their handmaidens Zilpah and Bilhah, and the ways in which each are mother to Dinah.
Something I am struck by in each re-reading of this tale is how much joy there is in the wives of Jacob celebrating their gods and goddesses that value the life-givers, the women, midwives, and grandmothers and the conflict with the rise of Jacob’s god, and the dying reverence of the sacredness of womanhood.
We travel along with Dinah, whose narration treats us like a long-lost sister, and discover her joys in first love, devastating heartbreak, and transition into role of mother herself.
This book weaves together emotion in a way that I rarely experience through literature, and because of this, brings all my thoughts and feelings to the forefront, seemingly ready to boil over into laughter or tears at any moment.
I have been missing baby catching recently, and my hands ache to find a little one’s position and relay her coordinates to her eager parents. To soothe a laboring woman, and catch the joy and pain and wonder that emerges from each woman’s eyes as she brings forth new life.
And while The Red Tent has awakened in me, or at least let me begin to reflect on this part of me, the midwife, it also brings patience. As Dinah’s life unfolds, we follow her transitions, the sweet years and the sorrowful ones. I am reminded that life is long, my hands will ease babies into the world once again even if they serve women if a different way for now.
Dinah lets us into the relationships she has with other women and families, and especially following our wedding has me reflecting deeply on my family both near and far, and my family of choice here in my new hometown.
I have always been a little rootless, having moved around as a kid, and then chosen to make my adult home in a city far from my family. But this past weekend I had a glimpse of the roots taking hold here, as I played with a friends’s baby, one I have watched with so much joy grow since he was just a few days old. Making signs with him, having him crawl into my lap to read a book, and discuss parenting and new projects with his parents and dear friends, I saw a sprout pop up from the ground.
The Red Tent is a book that opens the heart, and helps to pour out the deepest feelings that live there at whatever time in my life that I read it. It is at once a story so complete, yet leaves me, every time, about to embark on a journey.
And so I leave you with Dinah’s wish:
I am so grateful that you have come. I will pour out everything inside me so you may leave this table satisfied and fortified. My heart is a ladle of sweet water, brimming over