Unpopular Opinion: Teenagers Will Save Us

I’ve been trying to write this for weeks. I’ve started this post probably fifteen times, with various different angles and approaches. They all sounded cliché, and exactly the way I didn’t want to start this post. But recently, I was sitting on a bus, just having this moment of recognition that this is as young as I’ll ever be.

There’s something sad about that. Because my life is pretty great, and knowing that this time of ease and ability to be living for myself is slipping away kind of makes me want to dig my heels into the ground and make it stop.

I like being young.

I guess everyone does.

I didn’t always love being young. I spent my first 18-19 years wishing to be older, wishing for someone to take me seriously, waiting for people to stop telling me that I’m too young for things.

People don’t really say that anymore.

Somehow, I’ve edged myself into the world of being old enough to have an opinion, to be heard, to be trusted.

It makes me think about the days I lived out as a teenager.

Sometimes I tell people that I was the most teenageriest teenager, with every hormone, every really, really bad day, every tear soaked diary entry.

I also was a teenager who had opinions, constantly, who spent late nights writing, and long days arguing my point, and primarily asking a big question: why do adults not listen to the young?

I constantly ran into scenarios in which I had to explain myself, defend my actions and opinions, apologize for my feelings…things, I’ve realized, I haven’t had to do in a while, and I’ve finally realized it’s because I’m growing up.

And that makes me sad.

Because my feelings today are no more valid than they were when I was 16.

Sure, I may have a few years more of life experience, and yes, I often look back at the way I thought about certain things back then and laugh at my misled ways.

I am grateful for the experiences, for the way I’ve grown, for the perspectives I now have that I didn’t have back then.

But none of that invalidates what I thought back then, because if that were the case, I’d never be able to catch up.

In five years, my beliefs now will be ridiculous and uneducated. In ten years, those thoughts will follow suit.

If we’re constantly striving to be the most educated and the most confident, we’ll never win.

So why are teenagers treated like the children they no longer are?

When I first began toying with the idea of going into the field of counseling, after a lifetime of foreseeing my career as a writer, I was immediately attracted to the idea of working with teenagers.

I wasn’t sure why, but I had to explore it. I began working as a creative writing teacher for teenage girls because I needed to know how I worked with teenagers. Did I hate the experience; did I love it? Did it give me energy, or drain me of it?

Pretty quickly, I discovered that it was exactly what I had hoped it would be.

Challenging, terrifying, incredible, enlightening and enriching.

You know why?

Because teenagers are the best of what we are.

I can have real, exciting, intriguing conversations with my students.

They are blunt and open, and willing to talk about difficult topics.

Once, during a conversation with someone, I fell upon this idea that I’ve carried with me ever since – growing up is simply about learning boundaries.

Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s precisely the difference between maturity and immaturity, and maturity is a wonderful thing. But there is this unique boundary-less way that teenagers live that gives them the exact power to change the world, and be the incredible voices our world needs.

Sure, teenage girls often live their lives amidst drama and chaos, tears and fights, but their emotions are so wide open, so honest and real, so vulnerable. Those are things that adults begin to put up gates around, and that is exactly why I find teenagers to be so refreshing.

Perhaps I’m too close to teenagerhood to be speaking like this – but perhaps it is specifically because of my proximity to the age group that I need to speak up.

People are afraid of teenagers, because teenagers detest ingenuity, tricks, and lies, and they won’t be afraid to tell you that.

It’s possible that I’ve been privileged to get to know a unique and incredible group of teenagers, which is not something I’ll deny. But I have a strong feeling that more teenagers fit into this description than don’t. Even the ones who feel like they are the only ones like themselves in the world, even the ones who are struggling with their mental health, even the one who feels like a loner, or the one who is the most popular amongst their friends.

The teenage years are by no means easy ones. Sure, lots of adults will hurry to interject – they don’t have to deal with full-time jobs, or pay taxes, or raise children. That is certainly true. But they are in the midst of laying down a lifelong foundation, and some people are telling them that these years are crucial, and some people are telling them that these years are meaningless, and the truth is, it’s a little bit of both.

Life is hard for everyone, at every stage, in different ways.

Children, mostly, are hopefully protected from the bigger struggles in life. Adults, throughout their life, develop a hard protective gear to deal with struggles, whether that is coping mechanisms, tools, reliable support, etc. Teenagers are between these two worlds, still exposed to the elements, not yet filled with a protective toolkit, but yet, they are facing real adult difficulties – betrayal, confusion, and the potential of making mistakes that can have a real impact on their future. The combination often leads to outbursts, pain, hurt, and the pull towards bad choices. The desire to belong right now is so strong that harmful decisions are easily made.

But, oh, the passion. The vigor, the excitement, the one-track-minded belief in something. That is what I call power.

Again and again, teenagers are belittled, distrusted and not given the validation and tools they deserve.

They are not listened to, they are not believed, and their unique perspective and depth are not valued.

How can we take an entire demographic that is so full of life and dreams and goals, and basically tell them that they cannot be children anymore, that play and imagination and exploration is something of the past, yet also tell them that they cannot be adults yet, and therefore everything they believe, and learn and are passionate about is not yet important?

I was a teenager who found herself filled with passion for so much, who was told time and time again, bluntly or subliminally, that my opinions don’t yet matter.

Today, I get to spend a little portion of every day with incredibly deep and strong teenage girls whom I have come to admire and expect greatness from. Not in ten years, but now. Every single one of them. Even though each one is so different from the other. I started teaching to find out if I was just as scared of teenagers as so many other people, but I’ve discovered that I kind of really never want to stop.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone believed in our teenagers, rather than expecting the worst from them.

I, for one, would love to find out.

 

11/52


Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

 

Do I Overthink?

“I used to live right over there, on that corner!”

“I made it very very clear…!!!”

“Someone take over, I can’t do this, I don’t know where we are!”

“Who is watching Billy?”

“Excuse me, is this Christopher street?”

I have a moment in which I am at home in a city that likes to remain a stranger as I tell a stranger that she is, indeed, on Christopher Street. It’s really a fluke that I know that, as this is my first time in this area, but I had just checked which street I was on, and what do you know? I can blend into the world, act like a local, tell her “yes! You’re on the right track.”

I’m in this part of town because I’m in a bad mood, and I hate bad moods. I’m not talking about a bad mood that is there for a reason, and therefore gives fire to my writing, or inspires me, or pushes me to be better. This is a bad mood that just sits in me, causing me to get irritated more easily, and feel generally low about how little I’ve been able to actually accomplish so far in my life.

I woke up in this bad mood, and I don’t have time for it. This week requires creativity and joy and excitement, and I can’t make time to wallow in self-pity, or whatever the bad mood required to allow me to slip out of its clutches. So I do something that usually works. I take myself to a part of the city I’ve never been to, and try to lose myself in the unfamiliar.

What initially attracts me to the area is a park that I found on google. They call it a secret garden and it looks like the perfect place to undo this bad mood and take deep breaths and realize that no matter what, life is going to be more than okay. I find the park, I find a seat, and I sit. I read my book, but I begin to feel antsy. I move to the other side of the park, yet deep in my stomach, I feel uneasy and uncomfortable, and I’m getting frustrated.

The park is silent, other than the squawks of birds who have the liberty to not care what humans think of them, and the occasional buzzing bee, yet the peace I’m so desperately seeking is refusing to settle in.

After trying to force it for all too long, I turn on my google maps to check out what else is around me, and I see that I am only a few short blocks from the water, and it’s like my legs know where to go before I realize it.

As I get closer to the water, I feel my heart begin to lift, and I wonder why I ever thought a silent park would be the perfect place to release the tension that was building up inside of me. I sit down near the water and take a deep breath and feel the tension ease out of me at last. I stare into the depths of the churning sea, and I feel the calm I had been seeking begin to enter me.

The other day, one of my students and I had a discussion about what calm is. I argued that calm is when you can find a place that is quiet, distraction-less and peaceful. She argued that calm does not have to equal that, that you can find a calm amidst the chaos.

I don’t truly grasp what she meant until I sit near the chaotic sea and feel a depth of calm I haven’t felt in a while.

It’s true.

As the waves slam themselves into the walls of the pier I sit on, I’m not sure precisely what it is, but I know that there is something so magical about the waves that keep returning to the shore, with the same intensity every, single, time.

I sit at the water, and breathe, and think, and cry a little because that’s how all of my bad moods finally leak out.

I leave, and I get on the subway, and I’m standing because I always stand.

A man, homeless, walks on, muttering intelligibly, about to walk past me, but then one man looks him in the eye and asks:

“What’s going on, man?”

They start to have a conversation, human to human.

It’s beautiful.

I don’t know if this man is a real man in all parts of his life, but today, right now, he is, because he isn’t afraid to talk to someone that everyone else avoids eye contact with.

Maybe beyond money, beyond medical intervention, beyond anything this homeless man needs is a human to look at him as a human.

“Excuse me, is this Christopher street?”

“Yes!”

“Thank you!”

But wait, I’m not a local, I’m as lost as you are, maybe more because I’ve convinced myself I know my way around, but I don’t, and that can be taken literally or metaphorically, but either way, I like your dress, and we probably have so much more in common than we think…

The thing is, either you can read this sorry-excuse-of-a-blog-post and pull a thousand meanings from it.

Or you can read it as my very detailed account of my day that may seem meaningless.

Or you can read it like I wrote it, as someone who sees meaning in every encounter, but is trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t always know the meaning, and some moments in life can be taken at face value and appreciated and remembered, and not everything has to be the life-changing moment I wish it was.

Sometimes, bad moods come, and they go, and that is that.

 

10/52


Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

Listen To My Scream

These past few weeks have been hectic.

Finishing the Passover holiday with horrible news out of Poway, spending the week going wildly between intense Jewish pride, and fear, and sadness, and love, was a wild experience.

Poway bumping up into Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Hashoah, one day that celebrates Israel and one day that memorializes those lost during the Holocaust, followed by Israel being torrentially stormed by 650 rockets out of Gaza, killing 4, injuring countless others, and coming to this week, on a day that memorializes all those lost due to the terrorism and wars in Israel. I’m emotionally exhausted just writing that all, but it’s all taken an even deeper toll on my mind and my heart.

I’ve always, always, always leaned away from writing anything remotely political on this blog, because, in my mind, politics divide, and I’ve wanted this blog to be a place of connection, of relatability.

So, when I write about Jew’s or Israel or anything of the sort, I run the risk of people turning their noses up at me.

But I love Israel. And I am a Jew.

So what am I doing?

I preach authenticity, but at the end of the day, I shape the way I want to be seen, and that ends up hurting me, and my nation as a whole.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to feel pride and joy in being a Jew.

Sure, I know that it is impressive that we’re still here after centuries of being persecuted and chased from land after land, but when I think about the number of 6 million dead in the Holocaust, I just don’t feel so lucky.

When I think about the endless number of Jews who have died because of their faith, tortured in their homes and workplaces, taken from their families, their lives that they worked so hard to build up, I just don’t feel so lucky.

When I have this tiny sliver of dread in my heart, every single week after Shabbat, fearful of hearing news out of my home state, where my parents and family live, devoting their lives and working tirelessly to represent Judaism in a positive way. I’m terrified of hearing the exact news that happened in Poway, and now my fear is even more valid. I just don’t feel so lucky.

These things sometimes push me to think “is this even worth it?”

When I see hurtful and painful social media posts, with people missing the point completely, blind with hatred towards my people, it fills me with a pain so great, a scream fills my throat that I just never let out, because what good does it do to cry out against injustice, when injustice is always there?

Why has the world chosen my tiny homeland, a country so full of incredible people, and breathtaking sights, a tiny country all of our own, why have they chosen to hate it so deeply?

Is there any country on earth that takes such hatred, such blind, thick, twisted blame?

The strongest proof to me that G-d exists is that Israel, barely visible on a globe, is somehow the world focus in so many ways. What other country can achieve that, if they are not somehow supported by some other-wordly force?

Today, during my morning daily prayers, I read the words in my prayer book, “Az Yashir.” With tears in my eyes, I realized I was saying the very words sung by the Jewish nation, so many years ago, on the shore of the great sea that they had just been miraculously saved from.

Here I am, a young woman in 2019, saying these very same words each morning, filled with the same hope, the same love for my Creator.

Yes. It’s so insanely difficult to understand why our nation has been tortured, killed and hated for centuries.

But I know social media agrees with me on this – the haters make you stronger. The haters are proof that you are doing something inherently important.

I don’t know why 6 million were killed, I don’t know why our people have to endure so much loss and pain, but I am still here. I don’t know why, but I know that if I am, it is because I am here for a reason, and I must never hide in the shadows. If I have a platform, no matter how small, I will use it.

Call me crazy. Call me whatever you want, really.

I know who I am.

There’s absolutely nothing political about this, it is my soul, and my inalienable right to shout it from the rooftops. I’ve silenced my scream countless times, but here it is.

I AM A JEW.

And I am proud.

 

 

9/52.


Featured Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash

They Won’t Win

Today, there are tears. There is desperation, fear, frustration.
How many times can this happen to us?
Over the last couple of days, I was reading the book Man’s Search For Meaning. Viktor Frankl’s famous book in which he details his theories, further developed by his horrific experience in the Holocaust; his key focus is that when one believes their suffering has meaning, they can survive it. It’s when one feels hopeless, when one sees no meaning in their pain, that they collapse in the grief and everything ends.
This theory resonates deeply with the teachings of Chassidus, a school of thought, a way of life, that has been intertwined in mine forever. What I’ve learned, and believe so deeply, is that every single thing has meaning and purpose – even a leaf falling from a tree. How much more so, the greatest triumphs and tragedies in our life.
Yet, as I look at the images of Lori Kaye, the heroic woman who lost her life, it seems so cruel to even think these words. What kind of meaning can be found in the loss of a woman so full of life? What kind of purpose is there in the death of a mother and wife, a vibrant community member, a living, breathing human being?
I feel helpless in the wake of tragedy. My words feel useless, my conversations about nothing feel wasteful and my conversations about tragedy leave me aching. I’m tired, and I’m aching to be proactive.
What can we do?
As I opened my prayer book this morning, I read the very first words I read every morning “I hereby take upon myself [the mitzvah] “love your fellow as yourself.”
After taking every practical measure we can take to put our physical defenses up against inevitable hate and violence, what else can we do?
We can only love.
How often do we judge, tear down, blame, look down upon others for even the smallest of actions? How quickly do we assume we know someone’s entire self when we observe them for only a tiny part of their entire life?
We mutter under our breaths, we avoid people in supermarket aisles, we whine when we have to spend time with some.
We scroll through our social media feeds, mocking and laughing, tearing people apart when they can’t even defend themselves – perhaps that is worst of all.
Can we commit to perfection?
I think not.
For me to stand here, on this mournful day, and promise I’ll never think ill of another person based on large or small reasons is laughable and impossible.
But can I try?
Can I work at it, each day, just a little?
Can I keep my eyes focused forward, can I raise my voice in protest when those around me slip into negativity? Can I try to see the slightest positivity in an otherwise poor scenario?
Yes.
I can try.
And I will.
Because that – that is all I can do.
And perhaps, all of our collective trying, will inspire more and more doing, because in numbers comes great hate, but in numbers could come great beauty, and light, and joy.
And G-d knows we can use all of it we can get.
May the soul of Lori Kaye be lifted to the highest heights, and may all those who are suffering today find meaning in their pain.
Not today, but one day.
But until we get there, let us do what we still have the power to do – add more love.
I’m angry that we live in a world in which hate still has so much power – but I also believe we underestimate the power of love.
It’s easy to hate. It’s often harder to love. The harder the task, the sweeter the results. Hate is cowardly, love is brave.
G-d is hearing from me today because as I sit and chat with my 2-year-old nephew, I don’t want to think about him having to grow up in a dark world.
G-d is hearing from me today because I don’t want to keep having conversations about how we can better secure our synagogue, our home, our events that are quite literally held to spread the light of Judaism.
G-d is hearing from me today because I don’t want to have to one day look my children in the eye, and somehow explain, and calm, and console the pain that comes from realizing the world is a scary place.
G-d is hearing from me today because a woman is being buried before she lived out her life, because she was forced to die, because she represented light, and she came face to face with evil, and it seems like evil keeps winning.
G-d is hearing from me today.
But I was put on this earth to give back to this world, and you bet I’m going to do my best to only give it light.
Throughout our history, they’ve come for us, they’ve hurt us, they took our loved ones, kicked us in the dirt, and laughed in our faces.
But you know who always won?
It was us.
Dirt streaked, tear-filled, weary and tattered, the Jewish nation has always come through the other side, raising a hand in victory.
And we’ll do it again.
Bearing our torches. Shining our light, try as they do to envelop us in darkness. We’ve got a spirit that can be broken and trodden upon, but it can’t be put out.
They’ve tried before.
But they don’t know what we know:
Evil will never claim victory, not in the end.

A Shoulder To Lean On

A few months ago, I wrote this article, inspired by a tree (see the linked article for an image of the tree) my father saw on a family friend’s extensive, gorgeous property. His house is edged up on a lake, surrounded by acres and acres and acres of trees, wooden cabins, wildlife, natural creeks, and old beaten paths. Nature at its best. But one tree stands out. A short hike from our friend’s house stands a tree, that our friend introduced my father to months ago. He photographed it to send to me, as inspiration for my writing. The trees long trunk is lying on the ground, as dead trees often do, but it’s trunk then takes a wild turn upwards, growing towards the sky. I took one lesson then, about anti-Semitism, and the ability to get back up when everyone else believes you’re at death’s door.
Today, home for the week of Passover, I went with my brothers and father to see the tree for myself. As I laid my eyes on it, as we stood around it and took in its grandeur, I learned another lesson from this tree.
You see, this tree is huge and old, and strong. It beat the odds, it is impressive and beautiful, and even still has buds on its highest branches. But as it soars to the sky, it leans against another tree right next to it, inching past it in height, but clearly reliant on the other trees strength for survival.
I’m studying psychology and counseling at the moment, with a goal to one-day practice as a therapist, g-d willing. Each day, I learn more about the intricacies of the human brain, the fragility of it, and the impossible tenacity of the human spirit. We, as humans, can endure incredible pain, and still come through. It’s true.
As we climb through a crisis, beaten and bruised, we come through stronger, somehow. We fold back into our lives with more wisdom, more depth, more beauty. It’s easy to credit ourselves, and it’s easy to believe we can do it, all on our own.
Because we can.
But do we have to?
When I study psychology, about the various disorders, about the ups and downs of the human experience, I ache with the desire to have all the knowledge already. I just want to know how to help, how to have the answers, how to be there for people and be able to guide them through their life.
Today, as I looked at the tree, I realized that I am training to be that tree. That supporting tree, the tree that is simply there to help another tree stand. I realized that I, myself, have quite a few trees just like that, supporting me.
And I realized that it doesn’t make the tree less impressive, needing to lean on its friend, it only makes the scene that much more moving, that much more impressive, to see one tree standing strong, helping another tree soar.
How often, as humans, do we just want to be able to take care of ourselves? How often do we resist leaning on others for support, at the risk that we will look weak, or tired, or incapable?
As a future therapist, I hope that I can be the strongest supporting tree possible. That every client that walks through my doors can lean on me, and soar.
And I can learn to look at my support around me, and recognize them for what they are. We all need each other, and we all can be the support that someone else needs to climb a little higher.
That tree would die without its friend. As impressive as it is, it needs support to thrive.
Humans aren’t all that different.
So if you have a working shoulder, stretch it out for someone to lean on.
And if you’re a little tired, and your shoulders are drooping, I’ve got a shoulder that I’m willing to share, and I think you’d be surprised to discover how many shoulders are surrounding you, waiting and ready to share the load.
So far, this tree, this incredible, beautiful, stoic tree has taught me a lot. In the words of our friend, who stood there with us: “You can learn a whole lot from trees.”
It’s true. Oh, is it true.

7/52

(P.S: Due to the busy week prior to Passover, and the start of Passover, I did miss a week of writing! The good news is, I got to spend the time with my family, who are all home for the holiday, and they’re some of the strongest shoulders I’ve got.)

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

This Week

This week,

a cashier complimented me, after months of my complaining that New York cashiers walk around as if the world slapped them – which in fact, in a way, it does, through entitled customers. A cashier complimented me, and the sun was shining, and I was surprised as I said thank you, taking my change, but receiving much more.

This week,

i sat on the subway with my sister, as we speculated about other passengers, their life stories, their destinations, and I realized they might be looking at us, and for a moment, I was burning with desire to know what they saw. Two girls, on the subway, heading towards an adventure that would last a day, with flowers; and coffee; and too much dinner.

This week,

i boarded a bus alone, traveling by myself for the first time in months, among strangers, my head bent as I avoided eye contact, hoping for my own seat, finally winning, and then wondering why someone who loves connection finds isolation so dangerously sweet.

This week,

as i waited for my second bus, sleep heavy on my eyes, I observed two homeless women, having set up camp in a bus station in a city, but as they prepared for bed, they laughed together like schoolgirls, perhaps denying the truth of their middle aged homelessness, perhaps not denying anything at all.

This week,

i drove for the first time in a while, preferring the quiet NH streets to the wild ones in NYC, and my windows were down, and my music was loud, and I was all alone, and I was happy.

This week,

I laughed with a cashier, back in my hometown, and as I paid her I realized that people in this part of the world didn’t look like they were slapped, and that was pretty cool, and that being alone is great, but connection is all that sweeter.

6/52.

It’s Midnight

 

at midnight, the world quiets

the flowers close

a baby cries

a wolf howls, maybe,

in the distance.

 

someone turns in her bed

her mind awake

with millions of colors

and millions of dreams

a future calls, maybe,

in the distance.

 

someone lays in her bed

thinking about 6am

and the to-do list

and the endless journey

there seems to be

to tomorrow.

 

It’s midnight,

and everything is dark,

and the future

is hard to see.

 

5/52.


Photo by nrd on Unsplash

22 Years of Sharing

Twenty-two years ago, a little girl was born in a hospital in a small state, the air frosty, the wind blowing, a blizzard heading their way.

I was whisked home from the hospital the next day, as the first flurries fell of what would become a three-foot springtime storm, coined the April Fools Blizzard, perhaps most fondly remembered by my mother, with a brand new baby and five additional children home from school to welcome her.

This was how I entered the world, and it’s a story I tell proudly, for absolutely no conceivable reason.

Twenty-two years.

That’s how long I’ve been hanging around on this planet, scraping my knees, putting Band-Aids on, exploring my world and hiding under my blanket.

Having been born just a couple of years before Y2K, my life has been pretty centralized around the internet and the emergence of technology. I didn’t get my first iPhone until I was 16, but computers were a big part of my life since my young childhood days, filled with watching my bigger siblings play games and then morphing into the big sibling that got to play the games, but with a much smaller, less attentive audience.

I made my first Gmail account in August of 2006, promptly shooting off an email to my entire family announcing my brand new form of contacting them, and over the next few years, contact them I did.

With tears of laughter streaming down our faces, my sisters and I dug deep into our Gmail archives the other day, reading my diary-like emails sent to everyone and anyone who would listen.

At one point, I chanced upon a recording, something I sent out weekly (I only followed through for approximately two weeks), coined “Etti’s Update.” An early form of today’s popular podcasts, I would record myself discussing current events in my daily life, and sent it out to classmates and family. I listened to it, just the other day, laughing at what an over-sharer I was as a kid, before I realized – oh my gosh, I haven’t changed.

From my earliest days, I have been a sharer, seeking connection, reaching out in whatever form I could find.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to change how I celebrated my birthday a little bit by doing tiny acts of kindness for others. Paying it forward at a Starbucks, leaving a post-it note with some cash at an MTA machine, or just simply leaving an encouraging note somewhere I knew people would need to see it. It’s so easy to become unhappy on your birthday, looking at the marking of time as a reminder at how little you’ve progressed, or how quickly the years are going by. Changing the perspective has reminded me that a birthday is simply a reminder that I am lucky to be alive in this world for another year, and I have further opportunity to bring joy to others.

As a spiritual person, I do use this day to look inwards, to give extra attention to the important things, to use it as a time to reflect on the year past, and make stronger resolutions and goals for the year ahead.

I’m obviously thrilled to accept the sweet gifts and lovely messages from my friends and family.

Yet, like I previously said on this blog, the key to my happiness is remembering that it doesn’t end with me.

Reaching outward, just like my emails from my childhood show that I have always naturally done, is what brings this day to its completion.

Remembering that we live in this great big world, filled with humans that are more similar to us than different, a world ripe with the opportunity for connection, for smiles, for kind words shared – this is how I like to celebrate being alive.

Remembering that no matter what language we speak, what country we were born in, what food we prefer, we all know what loneliness is, what love is, we all have dreams and aspirations, we all can recognize a smile and an open heart.

So, in honor of my twenty-two years, I’ll be working on giving back towards twenty-two people, in whichever way I can, if that just means listening to someone for another moment, or helping someone with their stroller, or smiling at a stranger, or sending a heartfelt message to a friend.

Twenty-two years ago, I joined the mass of humanity on this earth, and I’ve spent nearly every day since talking and letting my voice be heard.

I don’t intend on quieting down any time soon, but I hope to channel all that sharing and be able to continue using this blog as a way to connect with all those who read.

I think 8-year-old me would be pretty darn proud.

4/52


Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

The Purim Story

Put yourself in the story.
Stop thinking about your costume, put the hamantasch down, stop for a moment and let it fall away.
Right now, focus. Listen to the words being read, fall into the ancient story, follow its path.
They say, if you hear the Megillah simply as a story, you do not fulfill the Mitzvah. Rather, you must listen to the story as a true reality.
Put yourself in the story.
 Listen to the wailing of the people, the wrenching sound of Mordechai ripping his clothes in mourning, the thump, thump, thump of Queen Esthers beating heart.
Peer into the windows of Hamans home as he plots his cruel revenge, into the classrooms of young children beseeching their G-d to save them, into the lonely halls of Esthers quarters, where she yearns to be with her people.
Feel the absolute terror of the people of Shushan as each day marched closer to their death. Feel the strengthening triumph in Hamans evil heart. Feel the complete faith Mordechai has in his G-d.
Fill your heart with the glorious gladness and joy exploding in the Jewish people of Shushan all those years ago, the sweet, sweet relief, the tight hugs between mothers and children, husbands and wives.
Notice Esther looking out from her palace perch as her people celebrate the threat to their lives falling away.
Feel the story in every part of you, remember that these are your people, and once upon a time, they lived this story out on earth, every fearful moment of it, every glorious detail. They filled the roads of Persia with joy and celebration, and today, we do the same in every corner of the world.
Let us give gifts with gladness, let us partake in parties with friends and family, let us remember.
Let us remember Mordechai, and Esther, and all the people of Shushan, who watched their lives crumble before their eyes, and had it returned to them,
and so they were joyous.
And so we will be joyous too.
3/52.

Chasing Happy

Not too long ago, I was catching up with someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

As I finished bringing her up to speed about where I was in my life these days, she remarked: “You sound so happy.”

The statement startled me.

While attempting to attain happiness was no strange concept to me, someone letting me know that I was happy was a little unsettling.

After a moment or two of silence, I looked back at her, and while grasping it in my mind at the same time, I replied:

“I…am. I am happy. Thank G-d.”

I’ve been thinking about this non-incident ever since.

Am I happy?

What is happiness, really?

This is a concept I’ve grappled with in my mind for probably as long as I’ve been able to grasp that happiness was more than getting the lollipop I wanted (don’t worry, I still get confused.)

My life has been filled with ups and downs, learning and disillusion, mistakes and triumphs, as I walked my slow but steady path towards where I was headed. For a long time, I was very confused about where I was headed, career-wise. I tried all kinds of different things.

Friends and family laughed as I made self-deprecating jokes about being a quitter, about conveniently leaving jobs just in time for summer break, about how I’m a millennial who is just lazy and wants to do nothing and get paid for it.

But really, what was happening is that I tried new jobs to find a depth of happiness, and time and time again, my job was doing the opposite of bringing me happiness – it was dragging me down, silencing my creativity or leaving me completely unfulfilled.

Am I happy?

I certainly do not always feel happy. There are days that I wake up tired, stressed and anxious. Lack of sleep, an awkward interaction, missing a good meal, having too much or too little of a social life – all of these things seem to impact my day-to-day happiness on a much larger scale than anything else I’m doing with my life.

There are bad weeks and good weeks, there are painful experiences and joyful experiences, and these are all extremely intertwined on a daily basis.

There are days that I want to hurl heavy, hurtful things at G-d, stomp my feet and yell as loud as I possibly can, because I’m just so mad at Him.

Do all of these things mean that I am not happy?

I’ve often allowed myself to believe that.

When I’ve woken up in a bad mood, I have allowed that bad mood to control my day, because I was obviously just not happy. Why try to fight something that is not in my control? I’m not happy, why try to be?

Once, during a conversation with a close friend about happiness, sadness and all that comes in between, I mentioned something of that nature. I said, “I don’t feel like I control my moods, it all depends on how I wake up.”

She laughed, startling me, and refused to accept that that was the truth.

I took her laughter as a challenge, and the next time I woke up in a bad mood, I did all I could in my power to fight it, and transform that mood.

I succeeded.

The next time I woke up in a bad mood, I tried it again, with the memory of my prior success giving me confidence.

I failed.

Because there is no absolute path to happiness.

Because I’m learning that happiness does not mean that we don’t cry, that we don’t have bad days, that we don’t fight or say stupid things. Happiness does not mean that we have everything we could need or want, that everything is working in our favor, or that the sun is shining brightly.

True happiness is so much deeper, and I’ve finally begun to really understand that.

I want to say that true happiness comes from having a job you love, or being surrounded by people who love you, but these are privileged things to say. These are things that bring me happiness, but are often not possible for others to achieve, for various reasons. I have barely yet lived my life, and I am not foolish to think that I have dealt with life’s most painful challenges, and maintained my happiness through them. I have experienced pain, but in no way that compares to the level of pain that others have, thank G-d. So I feel cruel to claim that I have the key to happiness, because I most certainly do not. But, I will share the one thing that I have discovered that has brought me happiness, that I hope all can have as well.

It is an awareness that I try to sharpen every, single, day of my life:

I am not the most important person in my world.

Are you laughing? Maybe you’re saying “are you kidding, you absolute child? Obviously you aren’t, you spoiled, privileged, little girl.”

Did you say that? If yes, that’s okay. I get it. It seems like an incredibly simple concept that literally everyone should be aware of.

Yet, it is the single most powerful contributor to my happiness.

I am not the most important person in my world.

How does that practically make a mark on my happiness?

It reminds me that my job on earth is to give.

I have been given skills, gifts, and opportunities that are for me to use to make this world a better place.

It has allowed me to build a strong relationship with my G-d, even when I want to hurt Him with all my might. It has allowed my ego to step aside, even for just a few minutes each day, and recognize that it’s not about me. This world is so much bigger than I am, and it is filled with incredible, unique individuals, and I am a part of the tapestry. I have an important role to fill, and nobody else can replace me – but my contribution to this world is much more valuable than my happiness.

You may say that is the path to negative thoughts of oneself, but I’ve found it to be quite the contrary – it has made me value myself in a whole new way and keeps my perspective on how I can give, rather than in which ways I can take.

And I am happy.

Are there things that I really, really want?

Are there things that I believe I need, and that I don’t have?

Are there moments in which I collapse from the pain that life brings?

Are there nights and days that I wonder about my future, afraid?

The answer to all of these is a resounding yes.

Yet, I am grateful to G-d that He has allowed me to feel happiness in my core.

Like everything good, happiness too, comes from good old-fashioned hard work, quite conflicting with the path to happiness that we are often fed in modern day media.

Perhaps, to be happy is our generations greatest struggle.

But is it achievable?

Yes. Without a doubt: yes, it is.

 

 

Disclaimer:

This entire piece was written with the idea that what is stopping someone from attaining happiness are mindsets that they have control over. If you are struggling with depression or severe anxiety, please seek the assistance of a trained therapist or speak to your doctor. Speak to someone, reach out, and ask for help. Happiness is achievable for you too.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741, or call the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255

You don’t have to do this alone.

2/52.


Featured Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash