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.
I’ve been MIA on this blog for a few weeks.
It’s been loud for weeks.
I’m home now.
My home state, that provides a new backdrop for my writing. A reminder of how many stories were spun in the woods of New Hampshire, how many poets secluded themselves in the mountains, breathing only fresh air, speaking to no one.
Alas, I am far from secluded in the evergreens. As the summer begins, my childhood home is filled with family, and often, chaos reigns. And amidst the noise, and the hustle and bustle, and the lists of what needs to get done, there is a single bird, who lives in the tree right outside our home. He spends hours each day slamming himself into the window. It is mesmerizing to watch as time and time again the bird foolishly throws himself at the window – why? As he bounces back off of it, he looks again at the window, as if this time, the result will be different.
How is it possible that the bird does not learn from his mistakes?
How does the pain of the never bending window against his feathered wings not teach him to stop?
The science of it is simple. The bird sees his own reflection in the window, and regards the reflection as an enemy. As all he holds close and dear to his heart only lives a couple of feet away, this is his attempt to protect from an intruding bird. His dedication to his little nest is so fierce that no pain will stop him – as long as he believes there is danger, he will stop at nothing to be the protector.
If only he could understand the science as simply as we could.
If only he realized that what he perceives as the enemy is truly only himself.
I’m that bird sometimes. Sometimes I get confused about who the enemy is. I see the enemy in the reflection, and I charge, I try to fight it, to protect what is dearest to me, and I end up hurting even more, confused, sometimes even with a broken wing that requires tending to, to heal from.
It is an endless, life-long process to master the balancing act that is putting yourself out there, and protecting your most inner world.
Most of the world you interact with each day won’t have the time, or the patience, or the ability to understand and grasp who you truly are.
There is a reason humans seek companionship, and why we seek that one person that “gets” us. For some of us, there are plenty of people who get us. For some of us, that number is much more miniscule, and that much harder to find.
As a result, some of us turn into that bird, fighting anything that seems like the enemy, because so often, it feels like an enemy. So often, others don’t see who we are, or are dismissive of what we hold dear. So we protect it. We go on defense.
But maybe, like the bird, we have become so caught up in protecting ourselves, we don’t even realize that the enemy has turned into us.
Perhaps I spend so much time assuming that others do not “get me” that I forget to just be me, whether they are listening or not.
Little bird, one day, that window could seriously injure you. Perhaps rather than looking around you, ready to protect your nest from imaginary enemies, stay near your baby birds, and revel in the life that you have.
It’s a good one.
Today is my grandfather’s 4th yartzeit (anniversary of death). It’s obviously unbelievable to truly recognize that, but when he passed, I had just been a year out of high school, unsure yet of where the future would take me. A lot has happened since then. I’ve changed. But, in passing, my grandfather has been a constant, and I still remember him exactly the way he was when he left us. I lived with my grandparents for my final two years of High School, in New York. I lived side by side with my unassuming Zeidy, getting to know him well between quietly shared breakfasts at 7 am, or through conversations in the living room, as he spoke Yiddish and Hebrew fluently, and I stumbled through attempting to use my tiny knowledge of those languages, always resulting in me just speaking in English, much to his chagrin.
1. Keep it simple.
2. Joke around.
3. Talking less, but talking when you should.
4. Doing good things, quietly.
5. Overall, I think about myself way too much.
Next June will be here before I know it, and I’ll be marveling again, and all I pray is that come each June, I have the joy of marveling at how much beauty, how much good, how much growth traveled the days with me.
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.
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.
(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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.