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.
The next time I woke up in a bad mood, I tried it again, with the memory of my prior success giving me confidence.
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.
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.
I am notorious for encouraging vulnerability.
My family will tell you that, hopefully, my friends will tell you that, and my students will most certainly tell you that. Even just reading this blog for approximately five minutes will tell you that.
Not too long ago though, I got myself into a situation in which allowing myself to be very vulnerable also caused me a lot of pain. Afterward, I found myself wondering if not being afraid of vulnerability was too risky a way to live. That perhaps everyone else had it right, keeping their inner selves protected for as long as possible. I spent some time in deep thought, trying to understand how vulnerability, which was something I intrinsically knew so well, could betray me so deeply and leave me hurting, rather than healed. I found myself fearful of the future. Was this a negative turning point in my life? Would I now join the masses of people struggling to open up, holding other people at arm’s length because it’s the only safe way to avoid pain?
I was terrified. I had spent my life hearing people talk about how difficult it was for them to open up and be themselves, and I was so grateful that I didn’t have that struggle (in some scenarios, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.) But now I stood on the brink of falling into that trap, and I realized that people are not naturally born afraid of vulnerability, we are trained to become afraid as a result of negative experiences.
I decided I was not going to let that happen to me. Whatever it would take, I would force myself to continue being open and vulnerable. If that meant opening myself up once again to the risk of being in pain, so be it. This realization came to me after a friend looked at me and asked me, honestly: “If you could do over the entire scenario, but this time be careful not to be as open as you were, would you make that choice?”
When I realized that the answer to that was a very strong no, I realized that I’d always rather be open as a person, no matter the potential cost. Because the reward is still so much greater.
I find comfort and joy in putting everything on the table. I appreciate knowing that the person I am talking to is learning the full extent of who I am. I don’t like hiding. I do often hide, and I always hate how it feels. The truth is, in scenarios in which it is unnecessary or unacceptable to bring up certain topics, I feel uncomfortable. As soon as I’m holding myself back from saying certain things, I struggle to come up with what to say altogether. When people are just meeting me and don’t know me fully, I am aware of the way they inaccurately perceive me – quiet, maybe shy, not very dimensional. Someone who likes to stick to the status quo. Perhaps that is why sharing my writing gives me so much joy. It’s my way of showing the world who I am in an expedited manner. We don’t have to struggle through small talk here, I just get to tell it like it is.
I’ve missed sharing.
Over the last few weeks, some very kind people have been telling me how much they appreciate my blog posts, and I’ve felt incredibly touched, and slightly guilty. I didn’t feel like I deserved compliments on my blog when I’ve consciously allowed it to completely fall by the wayside. I was embarrassed to tell people to check my blog out, knowing that they’d clearly see it was not very active.
While yes, there will always be things that I will not share on this platform, as it is a public one, I am aware that writing consistent blog posts about my world keeps me in a state of vulnerability, and reminds me that there are always benefits to share something that is a little scary to share.
I miss being in that space.
I’ve resisted this for so long, hoping that my mere self-motivation or sheer will would push me to get blog posts out there in a consistent, timely fashion.
Clearly, it hasn’t.
I obviously need the pressure of commitment to a goal to push me in the right direction.
At some point this year, I told my students: “Figure out what it takes to get yourself to write, and don’t let go of that.”
So why have I not given in sooner?
I am not going to let fear, procrastination or excuses get the best of me.
I once wrote on this blog that I never want to be someone who tells young, aspiring writers that I once had a blog, as I’ve been told many a time from many an adult. I want to be someone who can tell young, aspiring writers that I’ve had an active blog for years, and I still do.
With that in mind:
I am officially reinstating the 52 weeks of blog posts.
Today is number 1.
I am busier than I was when I did this the first time, but they say if you want something done, ask a busy person, so I’m going to put myself up to the task.
So. Here goes.
Let’s see where this journey takes me.
I’m on a mission to learn from all the people I see around me, to listen close and gain from the process.
This poem may not mean much, it may mean a lot, I’m honestly not sure, and I simply wrote it because I want to be writing more. More than once a month.
And so here is a poem born from a line overheard from a stranger in the library:
“We’re always 3 steps away
from becoming those
the boy in the library
“I always feel like
He wasn’t talking to me.
I heard it as I studied,
I sat only on the
of his conversation.
His bleached blonde hair,
and long black leather coat
said a story.
Did I fear him?
Did I pity him?
How close was I
Those we fear, and those we pity.
Bad choice or
right on the
Those I fear
and those I pity
and then me.
3 steps to an
For how long
can one balance?
As the chicken soup is served, the conversation around the table has gone from polite pleasantries to passionate discussions about what is wrong in our community. Top of the list? The Chinuch system. At Shabbos tables throughout the community, people are sharing their horror stories, their deep-rooted anger, or about how much they wish their children were finished with it.
I know, because I’ve been there.
Time, and time again. I’ve participated. I’ve been the one sharing, I’ve been the one listening, I’ve been the one saying yes! Enough is enough!
Every time I look at a child at the start of their educational experience, I feel my heart sink, knowing that most of them will face challenges that will destroy their love for education, rather than enhance it. I have yelled, I have gotten red-faced, I have stamped my feet.
I have sought out conversation, I have had meetings, I have talked, and talked, and talked.
And then I got tired.
Because I noticed something. People loved to talk. As someone who has put her name out there, loud and proud, as someone who believes that our education system falls far, far too short of it’s potential, I’ve been an address for so many people’s complaints and stories. I’ve been greeted with “let’s talk about how bad the education system is!”
In the beginning, I was excited about that. People knew that I was serious about correcting the system, and they wanted to be a part of it!
But slowly, I began to realize that wasn’t the case. People wanted me to correct the system. They didn’t want to be a part of the process, the work, and the struggles that would include.
This is the honest truth: the system is already being corrected.
Yes, there are lots of things wrong with our already existing system. I know really well how deep those issues are. I’ve been personally hurt by the system, by the lack of respect given to students. I’ve seen others hurt far more than I have. I’ve watched students fly through school, not even noticing how bad it is because of the band-aid of a wonderful social life and extra-curricular. But I’m not here to talk about all of these things, because we all know these things all too well.
I’m here to talk about something else.
Yes. There are lots of no good things going on in our Chinuch system. But…
There are also incredible things happening for Chinuch.
Namely, the Menachem Education Foundation, that tirelessly works to train teachers and principals is one. Their objective is to is take the word education and transform it into something truly magical. I’ve been involved in some of their incredible projects, and I know that there are other amazing things happening that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore, and I’m sure there are yet more that I don’t even know about.
But in my opinion, I believe they have one major struggle:
The lack of support from the community.
I’m not writing this to create an angry stampede of people feeling defensive and hurt.
I’m writing this because this is not a one-man job. It’s not a ten woman, fifteen man job. It’s our job. As a community, we must support those who are doing the work that we are not doing.
Enough complaining. Enough endless conversations that all end the same way. Let’s start the real conversation. Don’t stop talking, let’s keep talking – but while we talk, let’s keep our hands busy, let’s follow through with what we’re saying.
Today, the Menachem Education Foundation is running a Charidy campaign. Donate if you can. Spread the good word. Find out if they need something that perhaps you can provide. Find out if there’s any way that you can make a difference towards their tireless efforts. When you say you can’t wait until your daughter graduates – think for a moment about what that means.
It takes a village to raise a child, but the village is slacking off, closing their eyes and wishing for it to go away. It’s not going to happen, my friends. It takes blood, sweat and tears to create change.
Shabbos table conversations are good, they’re great, and they’re the crucial first step.
But that’s all they are – a first step. And when the dishes are dried and put away, and the last of the leftovers are eaten, the issues are put to rest. And that – that is the precise moment the issue deepens.
We can’t afford to not support our change-makers. We can’t afford to keep allowing things to remain the same.
We can’t even afford to act on our own – we need to work together.
Let’s not just start another conversation about Chinuch.
Let’s start a different kind of conversation:
Somebody is already making the change. Now, how are we going to help?
Here’s how you can. Today. Trust me when I say this is a worthy cause:
I was standing in a Starbucks, waiting to use the bathroom. My eyes found a young woman sitting in the corner, knees curled up on the bench she was sitting on. She pulled her jacket tightly around her, as if she could protect herself from the chaos of the human species around her. Or perhaps, she was just cold.
This is something I do. I live in New York City, I spend a lot of time searching the seas of the people around me for meaning. Like the girl on the subway, reading a book the way you read a book when you wish you were the kind of person who could read a book on the subway. Her eyes fluttered up at every other sentence, anxiously surveying the crowd, desperate to know how others saw her. Or at least, that’s the meaning I assigned to the body language that I saw. Maybe she was nervous about missing her stop. Maybe she’s previously had a negative experience with a fellow passenger, and was keeping herself aware. Maybe she was thinking about something completely different.
Because from the outside, there’s only so much you can grasp about the life of another. But there are some things you see, some things that you observe that you can’t deny. At that moment you see the raw truth of a human accidentally become uncovered, before they turn themselves back in.
Like the boyfriend who pointed out something funny to the girl at his side. He was laughing. She rolled her eyes. At least one heart sunk in that moment. Perhaps two.
Or the two construction men sitting side by side, headphones on, dirt falling off their boots. I sit across from them, trying to silently observe as much as I can. One pulls his right headphone off his ear, and turns to his friend “I love this song.”
“Oh, yeah, I always get teary eyed when I hear it.”
Suddenly, in one moment, my entire perception of them is shattered. Moments later, a group of young kids boards. Filled with the energy of the youth, they quite literally bounce on to the train, and don’t stop moving. Two teenagers, one child with stars in his eyes. He can’t try harder to be like the boys he’s with, he’s trying so hard to be something. He can’t tell that he is already so much. The boy, only a boy, sits down to eat a snack to the right of me. The subway slides, he slides right into me, his friends yell “There’s a lady, idiot!”
One of the construction workers passes the boy a napkin to clean up his crumbs.
In this one moment, this is my entire universe. Three boys chasing something, two construction workers that know more about vulnerability than I do, and me.
Each one of us writing our own story.
The boys get off. The construction men do too.
I alone remain, privy to a secret world of occurrences that disappear as the next people sit down in those seats, oblivious to who sat there before them.
Two girls board.
As they sit down, one says to the other with her eyes on her phone:
“Oh, so-and-so died.”
A celebrity. I hope a celebrity.
“Oh, s***” her friend responds, moving her bag to her lap. “So, Katy recommended a great bar.”
Everything changed. Nothing changed. Death and life dancing together in the breath of their words.
It’s what I do, it comes naturally, I can’t stop it. I draw conclusions, I assign life-stories, I pull meaning from meaningless moments.
The only thing I can’t see from the outside is me.
October 29th was the last time I posted something here.
On September 20th, I started a new chapter on this blog, I promised excellence. I promised quality. I successfully destroyed my creativity with those words.
Nothing has been good enough.
It’s one thing to be vulnerable and admit that you don’t think you’re very good. It’s another world to be vulnerable and admit that you like what you’ve produced.
How could I put my words up, claiming they are quality? Claiming that they are the cream of the crop, these are the words I chose to share?
The chase for perfection has always been my downfall.
My writing always suffers when I put an iron on it, forcing it to be wrinkle-free and strong.
As I look at my students and tell them “It’s okay if it’s not perfect,” I wonder why I can’t look myself in the eye and say the same.
As I look at my students and tell them “You don’t have to write a novel today to be a writer,” I wonder why I torture myself, trashing every single idea I have because it’s not good enough.
The collection of observations you read above have been sitting in my notebook for weeks. Waiting.
They’ve been waiting for me to translate them into something even better than they are. They’ve been waiting to be carefully placed inside a best-selling series. An award-winning essay on the psychology of human behavior.
I’m studying Psychology. I’ve got aspirations bigger than my blog, and somehow I confused myself by assuming that those aspirations contradict my words right to exist on this platform.
I started playing ukulele a few weeks ago. I’m learning, slowly. My fingers hurt. But it’s thrilling, every time I figure out that chord. Every time I make a melody that someone else can recognize.
I allow myself to be imperfect when it comes to the ukulele. I am able to see, so clearly, that practice is necessary.
Why has writing always been different for me?
I know me.
That’s the only thing I know.
One thing I’ve always known about myself is that I was going to be a writer.
Today, in my life, I’m taking steps towards a different kind of future.
Perhaps I’m struggling to forgive myself for that. Perhaps I feel as if I’ve betrayed writing. I haven’t been as grateful as I could have been for words. I acted like I could be more than a writer.
But I can.
And I will.
For all my observing, I’ve been keeping my eyes trained outwards.
I’ve been afraid to let my eyes look in over the last few months.
I’ve been working so hard towards something that I didn’t realize I’ve always been dreaming of.
And it’s not writing.
And perhaps my identity has shifted in a startling way.
And perhaps these are all the reasons why I haven’t shared a word since October 29th.
And maybe it all doesn’t matter.
Maybe it’s time I take some of my own advice.
It’s okay if it’s not perfect.
I don’t have to write a novel today to be a writer.
I don’t have to know the meaning of everything, for all of it to have meaning.
I’m tired of not writing. I’m tired of putting my words on a shelf, dusting them so they don’t get dirty.
My words are who I am, and that person is far from perfect.
So here they are.
Here I am.
Yesterday, traveling beneath New York City on the subway lines, I found myself surveying every person around me.
Had they heard? Did they know? Did they care? Could I trust them? Should I trust them?
Are they friends, or are they foes? Would they hate me for my Jewish faith? Would they stand by if someone tried to hurt me? Would they protest my death while watching it? Would they send thoughts and prayers?
Would they save me?
When something as tremendously horrifying as the murders in Pittsburgh happens, you’re forced to reconsider everything and everyone around you.
If I called out “who here loves all people?” how many hands would raise, confident and proud?
If I called out “who here loves the Jewish people?” how many hands would raise?
Would my words echo?
Worse – would my words be swallowed by a silence deeper than I could bear?
I’ve been coddled by this belief that this couldn’t happen here, not in America, not in a safe town like Pittsburgh, not here.
It happened here.
I watched, bewildered, as so many found their words so quickly, almost as the news was being spread, simultaneously were the answers, the blame, the hate.
I felt bowled over, pushed against a wall, as a stream of answers were being pushed my way –
“This is why!”
There is no why.
Is there a why?
If there is a why, then all I’ve ever been taught is a lie.
We always search for the why, but what I’ve learned is that there never is an answer to the why, and that is what makes us human.
Knowing there are no answers.
Not trying to find the answers.
How can we even try?
How can we organize pain as a question and an answer?
How can we possibly give an answer?
For me, there are no answers – there is only disbelief, only heartbreak, only wishes from so deep inside that it won’t ever happen again.
But there are questions, endless questions, for everyone, from G-d, to the smallest children on the street.
G-d, why do you allow evil in this world? How much light can be born from hate?
Child, how can we change this world for you? How can we purify it enough so that you don’t collapse from the pollution of our pain?
As I hear parents beg for help – “how do we speak to our children?” I wonder if the children need to be spoken to.
Children deserve to be coddled and protected from our world’s most awful truths, but more than that, children know the truth already.
How do we speak to our children?
Perhaps, rather than pulling them to grow up into our chaotic world, allow us to learn from them. Look into their eyes and see the innocence there – remember, remember what it means to be a child, to not know that such pain exists, to not expect it of the world around us, to not grasp for the answers but to allow ourselves to sit down and cry. To cry, ceaselessly and without shame, at the utter unfairness of it.
And then to pick ourselves back up, to make friends with those around us, to make the world simple again – love leads to love.
I’m not a parent, and in moments like these I am grateful that the only eyes I have to meet are mine in the mirror. I don’t have to crouch down to look into a heartbroken face, a child shattered by what they’ve overheard, having the moment in which their world goes from perfection to fractured.
And maybe I’m all wrong. Maybe nothing about this is simple. Maybe nothing about this is simply about that fact that 11 worlds have just been completely shattered because of their Jewish faith. Maybe it’s not just about the fact that there are people out there who hate me for my faith and will stop at nothing to destroy. Maybe this is about politics, or guns, or protests and rallies. I don’t know. That’s the truth.
And that is why I hesitated to write words at all.
What use are words?
I’m no political scientist, or social commentator.
Maybe one day, I’ll add those qualifications to my resume, but for now, I am just one voice.
One voice, who grasps for words every time I feel the earth shake beneath my feet.
These are my words, and I’m sharing them with you in a desperate moment of trying to connect, to find a place we can meet, in a place that we can throw up our hands, cry out at the unfairness of it, and say, maybe, we just don’t know.
There once was a girl named Blue.
She was entirely grateful that she was Blue.
Blog Post: 52/52!