I haven’t had much to say
I haven’t had much to say
Two weeks ago, when life was still selfish, and we weren’t aware of our every breath, and move, and action, I gave my students a writing prompt.
The prompt was courage.
When do we need to have courage? What does courage mean? What is courage when it comes to faith? Family? Friends?
I sat down to write with them, and this is what I wrote:
Courage sometimes gets stuck in my throat as I try to find the stepping stones to lift myself up above the fear. The tears always begin to fall when I admit I’m afraid, and often these tears are the fuel for the anger I need to stand up and get things done.
My faith requires courage because the world thinks the weak are the ones who turn to
They think that faith is a crutch, an excuse, a way to ignore life’s pain. They don’t know how strong your heart has to be, to be able to believe.
I call on courage when my faith is sitting in my hands, ripped to shreds.
I call on courage when my voice is hoarse from calling out to a G-d I know is there, but can not hear.
I call on courage on the rainy days.
I call on courage when I look into my future and don’t know how the outline will be filled.
I call on courage, and I call on faith because sometimes they are one and the same.
A part of me feels strange saying that life requires courage now.I associate real courage with risking danger, with sitting on the front lines, with looking danger in the eye and doing what you have to do anyway. So, yes, I’d say that anyone who is working in the medical field right now is courageous. But the rest of us?
Those of us who are being asked to stay home? To avoid danger? To keep ourselves safe?
It doesn’t necessarily feel courageous. It feels a little stifling. Life is really uncertain, and that makes me uncomfortable. The things I can rely on to give me joy, like teaching my students, or hanging out with friends and family are no longer reliable sources of joy in my life right now.
Which means that I have to turn inward.
And turning inward requires courage.
Turning inward, and accepting what you find there, that is courageous.
Tonight is my birthday.
I’ll be turning 23, but it feels all so meaningless and unimportant while the world is in absolute chaos, while I have to settle my anxiety over and over again, while people are experiencing pain, loss, confusion, and epic disruption in their lives.
But…it’s still my birthday.
It’s the anniversary of the day I started out on this planet. Which means it’s the anniversary of everything I’ve ever achieved in my life, every leap I’ve taken, every fear I’ve overcome. It’s the day in which G-d takes me in his arms and says “I want you here, there is a reason you need to be on this earth.”
What better reminder could I ask for in the midst of the most confusing global experience I’ve ever lived through?
For the last few years on my birthday, I have made a point to do random acts of kindness for others. Sometimes I’ve had my students join in. Sometimes I’ve asked all of you to join in.
This year, right now, we’re not really supposed to be around people. This makes it exponentially harder to do easy acts of kindness, like helping someone with their stroller, a smile to a stranger, even paying it forward in restaurants or coffee shops is not really possible right now.
But if there has ever been a time to reach out with kindness to others, it’s right now. So, if you can, in honor of my birthday, I ask you to reach out to even one friend or family member via FaceTime or text and make them smile. Remind them that there is goodness and happiness and laughter still readily available to us.
We don’t have to do this alone.
It takes courage to turn inwards, and right now, a lot of us are being forced to turn inwards.
It’s not necessarily a comfortable place for all of us, especially when we’ve carefully arranged our lives to allow us to not have to face our innermost selves all the time. Distractions, work, friends, obligations – it’s all so easy to make it all build-up, and then because you’re so tired at the end of the day, tuning everything out by watching or reading something is so justified. And then a new day begins, and then again, and then again, and we haven’t even looked ourselves in the eye all week.
Right now, we are being handed the necessity to look ourselves in the eye, to accept ourselves, to find joy and a sense of peace within our own minds.
It’s not easy. It takes courage.
But this opportunity is ours for the taking.
And we will all be richer for it.
The other day, I was briefly discussing this situation with a friend, and how overwhelmed and confused I felt by it all, and she asked if I’d be writing about it.
I responded that it feels like so many people are writing, what else could I possibly say?
She said “just your feelings.”
So here they are, my fellow humans: for those in quarantine, and for those who are social distancing, and for all those who are feeling afraid and lost.
These are my feelings.
I hope they make you feel even a little less alone in your fears, your anxiety, and your stress.
Keep the faith. We’ll be out of the dark one day.
I haven’t really felt like sharing in a while.
That’s pretty evident, being that my last blog post was written almost two months ago.
I’ve been busy kind of being captivated by life.
The way it moves, and lives, and breathes, and swings us from one end of emotions to another within just a few days.
Life is endlessly filled with lessons, and honestly, sometimes I get overwhelmed just trying to learn them all.
To learn from the pain, from the good, from the sad, from the happy.
From every person I cross paths with.
I believe, fully, that everything happens for a reason.
I believe, fully, that in every situation we find ourselves in, we are there for a very particular reason.
Yet, I often struggle to know what the reason is.
I often wonder what is being asked of me. Does this moment in time require considerable effort and depth, or does it require me to let go, and let it happen?
How are we ever meant to truly know?
Even doing my best is too vague of instructions – what part of my best? My best could be to work until dawn or my best could be to get a good night’s rest and start again tomorrow – how can I know?
Someone once told me that if G-d wants us to know, He’ll let us know.
Just knowing there is a reason is enough. Knowing the reason is not up to us. It’s not up to us to dig up the sand, to glue together the map and follow it until the ends of the earth.
If G-d wants us to go, He will hand us the map, and the right shoes to wear to walk towards our destination.
If He doesn’t hand us the map, perhaps He wants us to stay put.
It doesn’t mean that having the map makes it easy, and not having the map makes it hard.
Having the map could be an incredibly stressful experience, as we toil to read the signs on the road, and agonize at the length of the journey.
Not having it could leave us feeling lost and abandoned.
I’ve been in both of these made-up scenarios, and I can’t tell you which one I prefer.
I don’t know that I have the map right now.
This doesn’t mean I’m unhappy, it just simply means I’m not sure what G-d is asking of me in this precise moment.
And this can often lead to frustration. Confusion.
Heartfelt prayers that seem to go unheeded.
I know that I’m where I need to be, I just wish I knew what I’m supposed to be doing while I’m here. What kind of things I should be collecting, or sharpening, or finding.
Or if I’ll be here for a while, or not, or what.
Life is full of these moments.
As a writer, and a sharer, I often wonder if I’m in a particular place so that I can write, and share for the sake of giving someone the gift of knowing that someone out there is feeling that way too.
If you’re out there.
If you’re feeling like you’re in a moment in time that doesn’t seem to quite fit, I’m here to tell you that there are countless others in that space with you.
Day by day, each of us will emerge. Each at the exact right moment. Each for the exact right reason.
But it will happen.
For now, if you have a map, seize it. Don’t be afraid. Follow the lines, tread carefully, and you’ll get there.
If you are mapless, as many of us are, breathe deeply. Soon, the way will unfold itself in front of you. For now, absorb the joy of being mapless – explore every inch of the space you are in, examine it, question it, and learn from it. Without a map, all you have is trust, and you just have to trust that this is where you need to be. For now.
For one day, this space will cease to exist, and you will be all the richer for it.
The first snowfall
Blanketing the parked cars,
the few blades of grass,
and the trash,
I watched as
the snow whispered
to the ugly city streets:
“You, too, can be beautiful.”
Today, as the snow fell outside,
I watched a repairman
take his bad day out on those he was meant to service,
and I thought,
What would it take for this to be beautiful?
How does one level the playing field
of the human species,
as the undercurrents of animosity grow?
Why is this not beautiful?
What kind of pain grew in this man’s heart,
shaping the new way he breathed,
seeing everyone but himself as the enemy?
How, how do I make this better,
how do I lift the cloak of ugly and reveal beauty?
Because there is no question that it is there.
Because it’s always there.
My one-year-old nephew saw beauty
in the wet snowfall as it landed
on my arms
and his eyelashes,
as he giggled
at the novelty of it.
As he laughed,
I found beauty too,
in the heavy, wet, slush
that surrounded me,
remembering my first snowfalls,
before I realized the snow was something
that could ruin someone’s day
or cause an accident
or delay travel plans.
I was born the day before a snowstorm
that left thousands without power.
I felt the first scratch of a story fall into line in my mind,
about a man that was a repairman,
and what it means to find beauty
in bitter words and angry days,
and about how much more everything is then it seems.
Maybe one day I’ll write it.
I’m not sure it’s time just yet.
Because he was just a repairman,
But when I am,
and I’m tasked with finding beauty
in pain, and ugly, and muddy tracks,
perhaps I’ll look at the snow
that beauty can be found
even on the city streets
filled with old
It’s been ten (and a half, to be precise) years since I’ve been twelve.
I’ve been thinking about 12-year-old me a lot recently. I’m not sure why, she just keeps coming into my mind. It’s interesting, being an “adult,” because that’s all I ever wanted back then, that age when everything would just make sense.
I have good news and bad news for 12-year-old me.
The good news is, honestly, a lot of the time, it does make sense. Things just work. I get to do what I want. I’ve come a long way since 12, had a few muddled years in between, but now…I’m good. I understand what makes me tick, what makes me angry, and (roughly) how to make myself happy. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I mostly make sense to me now. When I was twelve, it was mostly murky.
The bad news is, that not all that rarely, without fail, comes a time in which nothing makes sense.
There are moments in which I’m going along with my hum-drum life, surrounded by luxuries I barely notice (and probably complain about), with friends and family on speed dial, people I know who would drop anything to be there for me if I needed it. I even have the audacity to continuously ask G-d for more.
And suddenly I’m hit with the realization that I am privileged beyond belief.
And it hurts to breathe.
And I enter a battle inside my mind – is G-d good? G-d is good to me, yet so painfully unkind to an unfathomable number of people. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around how insane the lives of people who SHARE THIS EARTH WITH ME are. Torture, heinous murder, desperate poverty, at the hands of dictators, genocides, starvation, addictive drugs, violence…it never ends.
There is an endless sea of hatred and pain, and bloody waters on this earth that I call beautiful because I’m able to look at just one tree.
But…the world…is good, right?
G-d…everything He does is for the good, right?
During these moments, I feel like I am twelve again. Confused, lost, heartbroken.
I want to just put a stick in the world’s gears, make it stop moving and moving and moving, and force it to look itself in the eye. I wish I could make a noise so loud that it will stop all of humanity in its tracks and force it to recalibrate, reconsider every action it has done until now.
I want to scream.
I don’t read the news because it hurts my soul, but who is that helping?
How can I ignore the pain?
Yet how can I listen, with hands tied?
I am so small.
This world and its millions of problems are so large.
And sometimes I feel like I’m just whispering into the void without even an echo.
I’ve seen how hard it is to effect change. What kind of back-breaking, mind-splitting labor it is. There are endless critics, people sitting, doing even less than you are, telling you how useless your activities are. Change, in its essence, is not inspiring. It is dirty and difficult, it is all-nighters and tears in your pillow, it is prayer and tiny, tiny steps.
And each of us, in our entire lives, can only barely paint one stroke in this enormous masterpiece.
But what a stroke that is.
Because there are people who go through their entire lives without ever picking up the paintbrush.
12-year-old-me…I am trying.
I am not rich. I don’t have any fancy titles. I had no fancy education.
But what I do have is a heart. The same heart that made 12-year-old, and 13-year-old, and 17-year old me cry into my pillow, and the same heart that caused all kinds of tantrums, the same heart that fiercely loves her family, loves life and loves growth.
I’m trying to be grateful. To truly notice how good I have it, how lucky I am, how full of gifts my life is.
I’m trying to notice. To notice the pain on others’ faces, to try to do something to help heal them. To reach out, to do kindnesses in the small creases of my every day, in the moments between moments.
I can’t wave a magic wand, I can’t put on a cape and save the day. This world has joy and miracles painted in with evil and hatred, and that’s the way it’s always been.
I want to tell 12-year-old me that it gets better, because it did, and it does, and it continues to. But the older I get, the more pain I come across.
I don’t know where my life is headed, I don’t know what ever comes next, what each new dawn brings, but I pray that I am gifted with the opportunities to shake some foundations and bring about the change I so desperately hope to see.
Perhaps it’s time I use my words for something more valuable.
I want to have a hand in the masterpiece.
So I’m picking up my paintbrush.
For twelve-year-old me.
And the twelve-year-old in me.
“So, which kind of soul would you like to be?”
G-d was studying the soul in front of Him as it squirmed with the heavy decision.
“I can’t decide, G-d! It’s just too hard!”
“I have an idea.”
G-d took the soul to the edge of Heaven.
“Watch these two kinds of souls on earth, see for yourself what it all means.”
The girl tossed a rock into the crashing waves.
“That rock could travel a thousand miles, get stronger and stronger, and eventually sink a boat,” the girl said.
“Well, that won’t really happen,” said the woman.
“But doesn’t it make you think?”
“The rock doesn’t mean more than what it was, dear.”
“But that would mean everything is just what it is.”
“Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
“That would be heartbreaking.”
The woman shook her head.
“You, my dear, spend too much time thinking about the maybes when there’s a world of yes and no’s for you.”
“But maybes mean that there’s always something new!”
“Maybe makes you unorganized and inefficient.”
“Do you think G-d says maybe?”
“No, I don’t think G-d says maybe, because G-d knows.”
“But maybe…He doesn’t? Maybe He waits for our prayers every morning, and then decides.”
“Why do you always think you know G-d?”
“Well, I wonder about Him. I like to pray to Him.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody likes prayer.”
“No, I just said: I like prayer.”
“You pray when you need something.”
“No, I pray to get to know Him.”
“Get to know who?”
“G-d, of course, who else?”
“I feel dizzy.”
The two walk along the water, each in their thoughts, in their world.
“Do you think…” the girl begins to ask.
“Just stop – stop thinking for a moment!” the woman tugs her jacket tighter.
The girl looks across the ocean, and does all of her thinking, but just inside her head. She squeezes her lips together in a desperate attempt to stop her all of her thoughts from falling out onto the beach.
She wonders about the fish in the sea, and what they would be feeling like on a cold day like today, and she wondered what she might be like as a fish, and what kind of fish she would be, and –
“But don’t you like to wonder?!”
“No. No, I don’t like to wonder, because what is the point of wondering?”
“Does everything have to have a point?”
The woman sighed.
She kneels on the cold hard sand and looks into the girl’s eyes.
“Don’t you ever think about how much easier life would be if you didn’t have to wonder, and question, and think about everything?”
The girl shook her head “well, that doesn’t sound like any fun.”
Suddenly, the girl spied a fish, flapping and fluttering, gasping for breath on the cold sand.
“Oh! It’s dying!”
The girl ran towards the fish, the woman following behind. But by the time they reached the fish, it had given up its last breath to the cold air.
Tears fill the girl’s eyes. The woman puts a hand on her shoulder.
“It’s just a fish, dear.”
“Why does everything always end with me in tears?” cries the girl.
“One day, sweetheart, you’ll learn to let things go, to stop wondering and hoping and thinking all the time, and life will be easier. Won’t that be wonderful?”
“That’ll never happen to me,” the girl said sadly, as she wiped her tears.
“So, soul. Have you made your choice?”
G-d moved back to the table.
“Oh, yes, G-d. I have.”
“What will it be then?”
“I’d like to wonder.”
Over the last few weeks, my words have been stagnant. Unavailable, I should say.
I’ve got eight nephews, and this poem is an ode to the beauty that they are in my life.
To my newest one:
Last night, I sat near your oldest brother,
Waiting for his many thoughts to drift
Into peaceful slumber
And tears found my eyes.
My heart swelled at the thought
Of you: my newest boy,
Ready to join the chorus of little boy voices
And my tears fell
But they were happy tears, baby,
And they filled eyes that will watch you grow,
My heart barely containing my love for you,
And all my little boys.
Thump, thump, thump. Thump, thump, thump.
Two days ago, a friend and I sat shoulder to shoulder on a pier looking out from Brooklyn, facing the Manhattan skyline.
It was night, so it was dark, but the air was balmy and it felt more like mid-summer than mid-September. It was quiet, but not empty. The jangling sound of dog’s leashes and the low murmur of conversation across the pier could be heard consistently. And the skyline, well, coming straight out of the skyline were two lights shining, dramatic against the dark sky, reaching up and up, reflecting on the clouds above it.
I don’t remember 9/11.
Something about that unsettles me a lot. I was here, but I wasn’t. I was alive, on earth, probably playing with dolls or something similarly inconsequential, while the largest terrorist attack occurred on U.S ground.
As an adult living in New York now, every year at 9/11, I go through the same emotions.
Horror, shock, and in a weird twisted way – guilt, because I feel horrible that it’s taken me this long to understand the gravity of that day.
Yesterday, I found myself reading things about 9/11 – particularly transcribed phone calls and voicemails left for family members of those who lost their lives on Flights 11 and 175. I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t stop reading, as nausea grew inside me, as my mind was literally begging me to stop.
When I was a kid, for some reason we had a VHS in our home of a documentary about 9/11. It was graphic and detailed and scary, and my mom had kindly asked of my older siblings that it not be shown to the younger kids. I don’t know if I begged, or if my older brother was actually out to traumatize me, but I have clear memories of watching that VHS over and over in our basement, terrified beyond words. That is where my 9/11 memories begin, at 7 and 8 years old.
“Don’t worry, Dad, if we go down, it’ll happen quickly.”
Those words were said from a son on a plane, to a Dad on the ground, over a voicemail*.
When I read that, my heart exploded in anger. I suddenly wanted to punch G-d in the face. I wanted to yell and scream, and at that moment, I had no clue.
I had no clue how we all just kept walking around in a world that is so clearly so deeply flawed and messed up, I had no clue how anyone could ever bring more children into this planet.
I couldn’t believe that it took me 22 years to reach that point of absolute disgust.
And for ten minutes, I sat seething, and I wrote words like this:
“What exactly is the point?
Some days are overflowing with meaning and purpose and you can see it all written across the sky. You can smell it in the air – it’s called beauty and growth.
Some days are just dry. They’re regret-filled, and maybe tear filled, or maybe just tired. They’re hard to get through, and they feel hopeless and pointless.”
And then I stopped writing, because I didn’t even feel like putting words in the world. Which is why I’m writing the rest of this this today.
I don’t have any answers, not a one.
I know that when I sat on that pier, in the dark night, I saw what I thought were two low-flying planes right over the skyline. My stomach clenched and I said “what the heck are those planes doing?”
And my friend showed me that they were helicopters. And I remembered me that helicopters fly around the city every single day, and we had already seen a whole bunch of them.
I was comforted for a moment, before I realized that one day, not all that long ago, for real, people looked up and wondered “what the heck is that plane doing?” and in the next moment, everything was lost.
It was just a normal September day.
I was watching the recordings of the live CNN coverage from that day, and I was blown away by the way that the anchors continuously discussed the first plane crash as a horrific accident, a horrible mistake.
We live in a world today that a horrific mistake would be assumed to be a form of terrorism, and that makes my stomach sick.
I live in a world that my stomach clenches in fear all too often. I spend solo subway trips examining every face, trying to find the one who would be willing to murder us. I look at the world with fear cloaked glasses, and it’s not just because I’m paranoid, it’s because thousands of people in this country, in the last 18 years, have woken up assuming today was going to be normal, and never saw the end of that day.
And I’m learning that to get through life on this planet, you have to ride out the fear, ride out the pain, and hold on to the days that make life feel like potential and goodness can’t be contained.
Because something else that happened this week is that I began teaching creative writing and debate, and I met a whole bunch of teenagers that made me smile for the future.
And that is what this life is about.
Big ideas, and growth, and kindness.
And the real question is, why did I feel like I had to write about this this week, when I actually spent a good amount of my week in a space of happiness?
So, I share this post, because evil and pain are intertwined with our lives, and not allowing ourselves to feel that pain is a disservice to ourselves and an injustice to those who have been lost.
But I pray for this for you, and for all of us: for days that are overflowing with meaning and purpose, when you can see it all written across the sky. You can smell it in the air – it’s called beauty and growth.
*I don’t know if these transcribed messages are verified and true, but even if they are not, the emotions and meaning are 100% representative of the truth.
Featured photo by me.