growth

The Before

A poem titled: Potential.

 

A baby, fresh in his parents arms.
Fingers and toes,
A beating heart,

A lifetime ahead.

A couple, on the brink of the rest of their life,
Breathless with joy,
A new home,
Full hearts and big plans,

A story waiting to be told.

A child, feet swinging in his chair,
A new notebook,
New pens and an open mind,

Eager to be nurtured.

A seed, buried gently by fingers,
Watered and watched,
Cared for and sun-kissed,

A flower about to bloom.

Me, as I wipe the sleep from my eyes,
Yesterday’s mistakes fresh on my mind.
I feel pockmarked with
Bad choices.

  …. 
A fresh start
Doesn’t mean the cracks
On my fragile heart have healed
But it means
I can fix them.

 …. 
A fresh start
Doesn’t mean my soul
Is ready to speak to me,
But it means
Today-

Maybe I’ll listen.

Each day I awaken
With fresh potential
Always able to turn a page,
A new chapter,

A new start.

Yesterday may be stained
With yesterday’s pain
But today is still clean
And the future lies in wait.
And lives are waiting to be changed
And stories are waiting to be told
And lessons are waiting to be learned
And growth is waiting to be grown
And time is standing still

For only a moment.

Blog Post: 42/52


Featured Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This Is A Blog Post

Six years ago, I left a city that had been home for two years.

I packed up my memories, and waved goodbye to its shores, pretty sure I would never step foot again on its pavement.

Last week, in honor of a friends wedding, I came back.
The anticipation for the trip was mixed. I was excited to see friends, to dance with joy, and to see the old sights again. I was also terrified to meet the memories head-on, to remember the pain and be forced to readdress it.
I attended high school in the city for two years, and before I go further, I feel like I need to clarify that this is not a hate letter to the city, to the school, or to the people I knew. It is only a reflection of my feelings about a place in which I did not feel like I belonged, which is more of a reflection on me than anything else that was around me.
Last week, I walked through the streets I had known so well for two years, and I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. I was almost overwhelmed with how underwhelmed I was.
The pieces of my history that once represented so much dread and saw so many tears meant nothing to me.
It was almost unfamiliar, in such a distant and strange way.
I could barely identify what was new and what had been there, everything seemed different. My friend, accompanying me, laughed as I kept asking what had changed, so sure that there had been monumental changes. “Nothing changed!” she kept repeating.
But it didn’t feel like it.
Everything had changed.
Time had created a comfortable distance, a warm comfort. I felt unreachable by the pain that seemed to encompass me back then.
It’s been six years.
The last six years of my life have been the most transformative and formative years of my life.
Six years ago, I switched schools. I was given the rare opportunity to start afresh. And amidst the bustling crowds and rushing subways of New York City, I began to find myself.
At 16 years old, I began to discover what really made me tick. What I wanted from life, how I was going to get there. I made some bad decisions and some good decisions, all par for the course. Most of all, I grew.
With each passing day, I became less and less like the girl in Chicago and more and more like myself. But rather than a restructuring, it felt more like a dusting off. A clearing up, so that I could see who I was more clearly.
It’s been a six-year process that will never really end, I’m quite aware of that. But six years in, and I am so grateful to feel secure in who I am, and to be happy with who that person is, and is still becoming.
As I walked those streets, I tried to find the 14-year-old me. I searched the streets, the steps outside my dorm, the grocery store. I tried to listen out for the memories I could bring so clearly to my mind. The more difficult memories…and the good ones. But while I could see it all in my mind, I couldn’t reconcile the fact that it had all taken place in that city that seemed so unfamiliar. I couldn’t find myself there.
And I began to realize that nothing had changed around me, the stores and buildings were all the same.
But I had changed.
I had changed so much, that the me that had spent the start of my high school in that city was so far from who I am today.
That girl felt so deeply misunderstood, so frustrated, so angry.
That was me.
But it isn’t me anymore.
A part of me wants to dispose of the entire experience. If I don’t feel connected any longer, why keep it around? Why not forget it ever happened to me?
But I know that is foolish thinking, even though it was a thought process I ran with for a while.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Another thing that happened over the last six years was the loss of two grandparents, moments in time that forever have changed me as well.
As one does when something like this nears, my thoughts have turned to my grandfather a lot in the recent weeks.
While memories are wonderful, and I am so lucky to have the ones I do, something about memories wasn’t resonating with me this time. It seemed pointless to focus on who he was, when I am no longer the person I was when I knew him.
I found myself focusing more on what he means to me today, in my daily life. How do I incorporate him into my mindset? Do I consistently strive to bring him happiness? Do I feel his presence, despite his absence? Even more so – would he be proud to know the me I am today? Have I become a better version of myself from when we last spoke?
And I realized something.
Because it all ties together.
My trip last week, the yartzeit (anniversary of death) tomorrow, and my never-ending spinning thoughts.
The memories and my past are incredibly important. For without them, I would have nothing to build upon, nothing to work with.
If I hadn’t been so lost back then, I wouldn’t have found all these treasures on my way back home.
If I hadn’t had experiences with my grandfather and created memories, I would have nothing to sift through today.
But, and this is a big deal for someone who usually says she doesn’t know how to live in the moment –

Today is what counts.

I am grateful to G-d for all the experiences He gave me, even though I was incredibly angry with Him at the time.
Without my couple of years in that city, I would never have become the person I’ve been working towards becoming. It has given me so much, possibly even a career path. So yes, the city didn’t look familiar to me. I didn’t recognize the little details, the background noise to who I was back then. But that’s not really what matters anymore.
What matters is what I have done with those years, how I have developed them to be more than they were, to take the pain and turn it into something so much greater.
And while I will forever hold the sweet memories of my Zeidy close, they are also not the most important thing to our current relationship. More than the memories, it is crucial that I find ways to keep the connection alive, and because I am forever growing, that connection will forever be changing, and it is up to me to ensure that it never gets lost.
These things will always be a part of me. There is no way to consciously dispose of memories, and I no longer have any desire to. But I’m aware now that the past only has to work as a building block, as a foundation – and my job?
It’s to keep building up.

Blog Post: 37/52


Photo by Brittany Gaiser on Unsplash

The Background

On September 11th, 2017 I decided to write a blog post every week.

It’s been 26 weeks since, and I haven’t yet missed a week. Halfway – and going strong.
I’ve really liked some of them. Whether it felt like I was finally expressing a deep truth I’ve wanted to express for a long time, or whether those who read it reached out in a variety of ways to let me know what it meant to them, some of my blog posts had a real impact on me.
Some of them kind of floated by. There were a couple of weeks I toyed with the idea of skipping it, because why write when you don’t feel it? Why write when there is nothing to write about? Is putting my random words out there more important than putting something of quality out there?
But at the end of each week, my commitment won out. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to commitments – once I make em, I can’t break em. I get a thrill out of keeping to them. That part of my personality has it’s pro’s and con’s but that’s not what this is about.
That’s really just to explain why even if all my posts haven’t been of the greatest quality, I’ve still been sharing them.
This week, I closed up a short story unit with my students.
We’ve been working on it for a long time because, in comparison to poetry, flaws in short stories shout a lot louder. It’s much harder to know when you are done, it’s much harder to fall in love with a story you crafted because you’re never sure if you did enough.
And my students were feeling that pressure. I could tell.
But this week, I looked at them and told them this week it was going to happen. They were going to finish their short stories.
As I write this, I’m waiting for the last few to submit them.
But so far, I couldn’t be more proud.
Writing a blog post every week has pushed me. It made me realize how similar my posts were. It pushed me to try my best to spice it up a little. That led me to write 3 short stories in the span of 6 months.
I had written about 3 short stories in my entire life before this October.
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and bare with me because this post is a little bit of everything, a little bit of everywhere.
I’ve been thinking about growth – which you know from my last post.
I’ve been thinking about risks. Pushing limits. Trying new things. Allowing yourself to be who you are, truly, deeply and authentically. The kind of be yourself that shakes you and wakes you up and reminds you that you are meant for more, that you can be doing things that you never thought possible – as long as you reach inside of yourself and use the tools you’ve been given. I’ve been thinking about owning up to yourself, looking yourself in the eye.
I’ve been thinking about what I want out of this life, and how quickly the days are going by, and how until G-d slowly moves the puzzle pieces of my life into the picture I want, I have multitudes of blessings to work with. But I’ve also been thinking that I don’t have to be content with that – I can stomp my feet and ask for more, as long as all the while, I am thanking Him for what He’s given me.
I’ve always been a bit of a paradox. I’ve lived much of my life fearful of others thoughts and others minds, and the fact that I can’t see inside them.
Yet, I’ve also lived in an almost fearless way of not being afraid of telling others what I feel. Of reaching out, of putting myself in the deepest, most vulnerable spaces for the sake of something so much bigger and better.
I’ve been thinking about perfection. I’ve been thinking about how much I wish my writing was perfect, that I was perfect. Often, I find myself admiring other’s wonderful qualities and wishing for them – before I remind myself that just like dying my hair red, someone else’s best quality would sit oddly on me. And that life is not about being like others, it’s about being there for others in the best way we can be.
I’ve been thinking about my future, because I never stop thinking about my future, and how I spend each day looking for the rest of the characters to walk in at any moment.
I’ve been thinking about how I chopped my hair off, and in some twisted way, my hair knew that I needed something drastic to change before my heart truly admitted it.
I’ve been thinking about 21, and what it means, and how much it doesn’t mean.
I’ve been thinking about all of these things.
I’ve been reading my student’s stories and realizing that doing something that scares you is the deepest reward you can give yourself.
I’ve done things that scare me, and sometimes the result is obvious, the gain is immense.
Sometimes you do things that scare you, and the result is not obvious, and you can barely see any change, any gain.
But I’m realizing that every moment, every thought, every word, every day, despite how meaningless they often seem, are so so full of impact, so so full of development.
And as I make my small plans down here, G-d is shifting the big things up there.
And as I scheme and develop what I feel are big things down here, G-d is moving timelines and space to make my dreams come true.
I’ve written 26 blog posts since September.
Some of them, I could feel the words rush through me, their purpose clear.
Some of them I posted with some shame, some feeling of letting someone down, perhaps me most of all.
But I don’t think any of them were useless.
For they proved to me, if nothing else, that I can do it.
That it’s sometimes not about perfection, it’s not about being inspiring, or funny, or insightful, or writing the best post ever.
My students may not have all fallen in love with their short stories – but they wrote them, and you know what?
For me, for today, that’s what counts.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m trying to remind myself that I only see one tiny sliver of the picture. And I know that in the deep part of my heart, but it’s much less accepted in the forefront of my brain. So when my blog post seems like it’s missing something – yet I post it anyway, and I make plans, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to follow them through, or I pray, and pray, and pray, yet it seems like I’m praying to a closed door – I am trying to remember that this is not everything. I don’t know everything. I never will.
And as I feel guilty for wanting more from life when I have so, so much, I am reminded that I don’t even know how much more I could have, and while it is foolish to feel ungrateful, it is useless to feel guilty.
And as I discover the impact of one moment months later I am reminded that I never know the background story of what is happening around me, and I am reminded that as I pray for G-d to write my story…

He is writing as fast as He can.

Blog Post: 26/52


Featured Photo courtesy of a birthday gift from a very thoughtful friend.

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.

Blog Post: 25/52

Can I Become The Enemy?

I’m twelve years old.
I start a list.
Whenever an adult wrongs me in any way, I write it down.
That way, when I begin the terrifying transformation from child to adult, I will never wrong children in the same way.
I keep that list updated through the years.
As a kid, my enemy is adults. As much as I want to be one, I’m sure that they are all screwed up.

.

I’m fourteen years old.
I’m a full-blown teenager.

I cry – so much. I spend my nights in my high school dorm scribbling in my diary, poetry, anger filled paragraphs. The lack of space is stifling me.
I’m so lonely, searching for someone who has a mind that is like mine.
The adults in my life that should be my role models are telling me I’m not trying hard enough.
“The only thing I want in life is to be 18,” I write, tears hitting my pillow one late night.
Because adults are not told that they don’t know what’s right, adults aren’t told that they are not good enough.
.

I’m fifteen years old.
I don’t want to be an adult.

Ever.
Adults are broken, hurt, distrustful. Adults think they’re better, smarter, more clever. They’re just overgrown teenagers with more power.
My grandmother is sick, and everything is scary. None of the adults are telling me what is going on.
“Screw everyone,” I write.

.


I’m sixteen years old.
I’m a counselor in a day camp. Two little girls that are my campers are fighting angrily about something. Something so deeply stupid, I can’t even stand it.
I separate them.
They cry.
I look at them with disbelief. “Kids are so ridiculous,” I think to myself as I turn away from them.
I don’t know where my diary is.

.


I’m eighteen years old. 
I still want to be older. Eighteen is not old enough. There are still so many people who don’t believe in me. Who don’t believe in the youth.
I write on my brand new blog: “Why do I have to spend my life waiting for someone to take me seriously?”
.


Today.
I no longer count the days until adulthood, because I am starting to realize that nobody is an adult. But as I walk into my classroom, as I walk through a park, as I babysit my nephews, I realize I am the adult in each of these situations.

As I cuddle with my nephew to tell him a story, he shows sensitivity and wisdom far beyond his years.
As I listen to my students speak, see their hurt and feel their frustration, I am reminded of the days that I sat at their desks. The anger I felt at those who felt like they had any sort of authority over me.
Real anger. Justified anger.
As I sit at a teachers meeting, I look around in disbelief, the feeling of having snuck into somewhere I don’t belong is overpowering.
I am a child. These are adults. These are the enemies I spent my life fighting against.
How did I become one of them?
As I enforce rules I know are important, my heart breaks, knowing that I am the adult. I am the adult that does not need to explain her actions, who should be spoken to respectfully, who can not cry and show her own weaknesses lest it lead to that respect fading away.
I am torn.
I still feel like the child I was, yet time and experience is forcing me into a role I never thought I’d take on.
Adulthood.
I begin to recognize where children err. I understand that teenagers often make bad choices.
Yet.
I can’t commit, I can’t cross that bridge. I read the list that I began writing when I was twelve years old, and I am reminded. I am reminded that the pain and anger of a child are no less important or real than that of an adult.
I am reminded of the time I told someone that I was having a bad day
when I was a teenager.
The response I received was “How can you be having a bad day when you don’t have to pay taxes, worry about finances, or go to work?”
I am growing older.
I’m never going to be an adult.
My heart carries the child I once was, the teenager I just was, the person I am becoming  – and I’ll never let all these parts go.
I will keep looking at my diary, remembering those nights, that pain – I don’t want to be the adult who makes others feel that way.
Sometimes, it won’t be my choice.
Sometimes, you’ll have to follow someone else’s rules. You’ll have to take extreme measures to educate.
But I won’t be the enemy.
In High School I wrote a letter to the future me.
I wrote
“You might think you’re high and mighty, Future Me, just because you
are older.  But your past is important, almost as important as your future.”
As each day passes, I age just a little bit.
I hope I gain wisdom, experience, and responsibility each and every day.
But even more deeply than that, I hope that I never let the child in me down.
Because every voice is important. Every tear-soaked night is okay.
Every soul deserves to know how valuable it is.
Every heart deserves to know that it doesn’t have to wait.
There is no better time to be who you need to be.
Adulthood will come. But when it does, it won’t change anything.
The power is in the youth.
Don’t waste today.
Blog Post: 16/52
Featured Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash


Dear Old Me.

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 crib
A carriage
Mothers arms
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.
Until today.
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.

Sincerely,

Your Future.