birthday

Birthdays, Pandemics and Courage

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
G-d.

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.

 

 


Photo by Annie Spratt 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.

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Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

The Pain of Growth

Growing pains.

That’s always what they were. As a kid, I’d come to complain to my mom about yet another aching part of my body, and the reason was always growing pains.
It gave the pain some purpose, a sense of pride. I was in the process of growing, becoming older, getting taller.
Eventually, we all stop growing physically, our measurements coming to a slow halt, leaving us at relatively the same size as our 16-17 year old selves.
The growing pains ebb away, and I imagine the reminder of them comes as our own children turn to us and ask us about their own pain.
Growing pains.
So easily explained, so easily understood, so excusable for the hurt we feel.
But as we reach milestones, turn corners, and fall over as we awkwardly grow into emotional adults, the growing pains are so much more unclear.
They feel more like failure.
As we grip our aching soul, the pain seems to have no purpose, for the growth is hard to see.
This week, it is my birthday. I say that not to get a slew of birthday gifts (although welcome,) I say it to clarify why growth is something I’m really focusing on this week.
For what is growth?
Do birthdays mark growth?
Do I look back at the past year, and measure myself? Using what as the yardstick? Amassed funds? Amassed friends? Sweet memories?
What proves that I have grown between last years cake and this years?
To me, it’s all about the growing pains.
Because I have had them.
And while I was aching, there were times I persevered, believing in the purpose of the pain. But there were times I surrendered to the pain, eyes shut, hands up, and let it overtake me.
This year I expanded horizons, worked harder, re-focused, trampled my comfort zone.
I have also cried in the shower, eaten too much sugar, given up, and allowed my self-made limits to box me in.
I’m tempted, on my birthday, to ask G-d to wipe the world clean of challenges, of obstacles, of struggles.
But I fear that I would be asking Him to remove the color, to silence the joy.
I prefer to ask him to allow us to see the purpose of the pain.
To allow us to look in the mirror and smile through the ache, because we know that through our pain, we are painting the world with vibrant colors.
Without struggle, without challenge, there is no depth of joy, there are no intricacies of beauty.
I ask Him to wipe the world clean of endless grief, of grief so deep that the beauty is too deeply hidden to be asked to reveal itself.
But I ask Him to continue to challenge us, challenge us with pushing past our limits. Challenge us with obstacles we can see over, obstacles we know we can overcome.
Allow the growing pains to have a purpose, allow the pain to be only a roadblock, not the end of the road.
Because without growth, we fail, and without growing pains, we don’t notice the growth.
May my growing pains paint the picture of my future, strengthening my foundation, allowing me to build up and up and up.
Even joyous occasions come with growing pains  – adjusting to married life, a new baby, a brand new home, a new career. But these are the growing pains we can handle, these are the growing pains that make us better. That give our world more color, make life richer, that give life more purpose.
And so as I welcome a new year of my life, I look back at my growth. And I mark my growth by the pain. Not by how many days I felt defeated, but by how many days I felt euphoric, having overcome the challenge that had held me back.
And I ask G-d that He give me more of that strength, more of the ability to jump the hurdles, to push through the pain for the most epic of results:
Glorious, colorful, invigorating, beautiful growth.

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