I haven’t had much to say
I haven’t had much to say
Two weeks ago, when life was still selfish, and we weren’t aware of our every breath, and move, and action, I gave my students a writing prompt.
The prompt was courage.
When do we need to have courage? What does courage mean? What is courage when it comes to faith? Family? Friends?
I sat down to write with them, and this is what I wrote:
Courage sometimes gets stuck in my throat as I try to find the stepping stones to lift myself up above the fear. The tears always begin to fall when I admit I’m afraid, and often these tears are the fuel for the anger I need to stand up and get things done.
My faith requires courage because the world thinks the weak are the ones who turn to
They think that faith is a crutch, an excuse, a way to ignore life’s pain. They don’t know how strong your heart has to be, to be able to believe.
I call on courage when my faith is sitting in my hands, ripped to shreds.
I call on courage when my voice is hoarse from calling out to a G-d I know is there, but can not hear.
I call on courage on the rainy days.
I call on courage when I look into my future and don’t know how the outline will be filled.
I call on courage, and I call on faith because sometimes they are one and the same.
A part of me feels strange saying that life requires courage now.I associate real courage with risking danger, with sitting on the front lines, with looking danger in the eye and doing what you have to do anyway. So, yes, I’d say that anyone who is working in the medical field right now is courageous. But the rest of us?
Those of us who are being asked to stay home? To avoid danger? To keep ourselves safe?
It doesn’t necessarily feel courageous. It feels a little stifling. Life is really uncertain, and that makes me uncomfortable. The things I can rely on to give me joy, like teaching my students, or hanging out with friends and family are no longer reliable sources of joy in my life right now.
Which means that I have to turn inward.
And turning inward requires courage.
Turning inward, and accepting what you find there, that is courageous.
Tonight is my birthday.
I’ll be turning 23, but it feels all so meaningless and unimportant while the world is in absolute chaos, while I have to settle my anxiety over and over again, while people are experiencing pain, loss, confusion, and epic disruption in their lives.
But…it’s still my birthday.
It’s the anniversary of the day I started out on this planet. Which means it’s the anniversary of everything I’ve ever achieved in my life, every leap I’ve taken, every fear I’ve overcome. It’s the day in which G-d takes me in his arms and says “I want you here, there is a reason you need to be on this earth.”
What better reminder could I ask for in the midst of the most confusing global experience I’ve ever lived through?
For the last few years on my birthday, I have made a point to do random acts of kindness for others. Sometimes I’ve had my students join in. Sometimes I’ve asked all of you to join in.
This year, right now, we’re not really supposed to be around people. This makes it exponentially harder to do easy acts of kindness, like helping someone with their stroller, a smile to a stranger, even paying it forward in restaurants or coffee shops is not really possible right now.
But if there has ever been a time to reach out with kindness to others, it’s right now. So, if you can, in honor of my birthday, I ask you to reach out to even one friend or family member via FaceTime or text and make them smile. Remind them that there is goodness and happiness and laughter still readily available to us.
We don’t have to do this alone.
It takes courage to turn inwards, and right now, a lot of us are being forced to turn inwards.
It’s not necessarily a comfortable place for all of us, especially when we’ve carefully arranged our lives to allow us to not have to face our innermost selves all the time. Distractions, work, friends, obligations – it’s all so easy to make it all build-up, and then because you’re so tired at the end of the day, tuning everything out by watching or reading something is so justified. And then a new day begins, and then again, and then again, and we haven’t even looked ourselves in the eye all week.
Right now, we are being handed the necessity to look ourselves in the eye, to accept ourselves, to find joy and a sense of peace within our own minds.
It’s not easy. It takes courage.
But this opportunity is ours for the taking.
And we will all be richer for it.
The other day, I was briefly discussing this situation with a friend, and how overwhelmed and confused I felt by it all, and she asked if I’d be writing about it.
I responded that it feels like so many people are writing, what else could I possibly say?
She said “just your feelings.”
So here they are, my fellow humans: for those in quarantine, and for those who are social distancing, and for all those who are feeling afraid and lost.
These are my feelings.
I hope they make you feel even a little less alone in your fears, your anxiety, and your stress.
Keep the faith. We’ll be out of the dark one day.
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’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?
Depression! I can’t believe I forgot about that guy. He is obsessed with me, always following me around, always asking me questions about my job, always trying to secretly add to my task list. I’ve tried to force him and Life to hang out more, but they just couldn’t get along.
The truth is, it’s been lonely doing what I do.
I have never written a blog post on the verge of the week ending like this. I’ve gotten close, but never this close.
I had my first dream about a shooter.
I have written a lot. I have an enormous collection of terrible writing. When you write something almost every day of your life, it starts to really build up. Recently, I sifted through my writings from twelfth grade. That year was one of the most transformative years of my life. I had the lowest of lows, and the highest of highs. As a result, the writings swing from seemingly depressed teenager, to exhilarated young adult.
It’s almost my birthday, which means I’m turning a new age. Every time I turn a new age, it’s only my responsibility to look back at my past and pat myself on the back. Or slap myself across the face. Depending if I have gotten further up the mountain or slipped back down from laziness. Not kidding though, the climb is hard.
Why wait until the day I turn 19 to look back though? My twelfth grade writings gave me an idea. There are plenty of people out there who are twelfth grade me. People going through a myriad of emotions. So, why not pull out some of the oldies and respond to them? Below is a poem I wrote when I found out I was rejected from a school that a lot of my friends were going to. At the time I convinced myself and everyone else that I didn’t care. That it was okay. Obviously, it was all meant to be.
But, and as I have grown this has become even more clear to me, pretending just hurts you and everyone else around you. It makes you feel guilty for feeling angry, and it makes others feel like they are doing something wrong when they feel upset about it happening to them. I wrote this poem at the time, and in it you can see the sheer fear I felt.
The day I was born
I had two arms around me
A baby seat
They all protected me
Held me close
Then my desk kept me
For 12 years.
I knew it would be there
It knew I was coming
And it never let me down.
There were always arms
A secure embrace
A place to be safe
My happy place.
The net was pulled away
But I already jumped
Where will I fall?
Is this failure?
Or will I fly?
Dear Rejected Etti,
It hurts. Let it hurt. You tried your best, you went to that interview and please, you totally aced it. I know everyone is telling you this right now, and you want to punch them all in the face, but I need you to know that it’s true. This rejection is not about your qualifications. But be angry at them. Please. They actually weren’t that nice to you at that interview, and you were anxious. You should have been accepted. You should have been one of the people who are celebrating today. You should have been. Because you deserve it, and the fact that you even applied to that school is a testament to your growth this year.
But, I need to tell you a secret. I’m future you. I know what happens next. I know what happens after you put that pen down. You won’t believe me, but I can promise you that it got so so much better. Because, a few weeks after this rejection, you chose a different school. A school that would allow you the freedom that you craved all four years of high school, but also a school that had incredible teachers who fed the desperate hunger of your soul.
The net was pulled away with that rejection, and yes, you already had jumped. You already had seen yourself on that plane across the ocean, heading to that school with all your friends. But I can promise you this- you flew. Well. First, you landed. You landed safely. With all the parachutes. But then, you ran fast and took off again. I can tell you with certainty that it was a bigger challenge and ultimate accomplishment to get yourself up and flying again than to free-fall and consider it flying.
I can’t share the whole story with you right now. You don’t need to know the whole story. You’ll learn it as you live it.
I just wanted to tell you that it turned out to be the best rejection you have ever received.
You won’t regret not getting the chance to go there. You will be grateful for the experience you had instead.
You will grow more than you could have ever imagined growing.
Sometimes the thing you need in life is to be terrified for a few minutes. To not be sure of where to go. To be forced to grab on to a lifeline. That lifeline might just be your way to the top.
I’m sorry for your pain that you feel right now, Rejected Etti. It will hurt, and please let it hurt. But don’t lose belief in yourself. Because you are stronger than you think, and capable of more than you ever could have hoped.
I have a confession. I have a weird fear. It doesn’t hold me captive, but it’s a fear nonetheless.
Every time I cross a street, I have a fear that the cars, although stopped by a traffic light, will move on full speed and hit me.