meaning

A Different Utopia

When I think of the word utopia, it brings to mind green, green grass, bright, bright flowers, happy buzzing bees, and families that have never found the word conflict to be in their vocabulary. A world in which traffic never builds up, grocery store lines are a memory, a child never stomps on their mother’s toe, and love never has to be sought, begged for, or cried about in the middle of the night. 

That is what the word utopia has been given, a dream that is easy to dream, as it is simply a filter for what we consider to be failures. It is life without the pain, without the fear, just warm, sunny days, never a moment of overtime at the workplace. 

This utopia leaves me uneasy. I find myself leaping over white picket fences to find something between every blade of grass, trying trying trying to understand what is missing because there is something missing and it is difficult for me to understand why in a perfect world I can’t finally feel complete and relax and stop moving and searching and delving into every word as if it’s a treasure chest of further understanding about this planet, and why I can’t just be content with a life of no pain after spending so many nights achingly begging the G-d I believe in to stop all the pain because I hate pain yet now in a world of no pain, I seek the pain as if it can give me something I’m forgetting I used to have.

Pain is not a stranger to me, as I seem to invite it into my life by allowing my emotions to always rise to the surface. I step into the ring over and over again, with my heart unprotected. I’ve spent countless nights with my tears and my pen. I lay in my bed, in fury with the G-d that allows for grief, and loss, and tragedy.  

I’ve prayed for utopia. Praying comes like second nature to me, it has been a part of my essence as far back as I can remember, and it’s as natural as breathing – “please, let the light stay green”, “please, help me get this assignment done”, “please, let there be no more pain”. 

I pray for no more pain for my family, for my loved ones, for the world over. 

Yet.

In moments of pain, I feel my essence sharpen. As I rise from pain, my muscles are sore and strengthened. The locks on my heart’s chambers are loosened. From pain, I reach a higher state of being. And as I emerge, I pray again, no more, no more. Yet, the me that emerges is a me that I like better. A me that feels for others in a richer way. 

I have spent my twenty-three years searching, never content with what is in front of me, always knowing that there will be more to find if I push a little harder, if I dig a little deeper, if I pray a little harder. There will always be that next step, the step you didn’t think was there but then suddenly comes into view as you brush the dirt aside. There will always be a human in the stranger that is driving your Uber, and there will always be a human in the parents that you’ve begun to take for granted. There will always be a story in every moment, because stories are not born in a lab, they are born when conflict meets climax, and resolution sometimes means it’s okay to not have all the answers.

When I dream my utopia, I look for a story with threads at the end that I can sew together myself, putting a part of my heart in the plot to take with me wherever I go. A world that is a little messy, and leaves paint on our hands and in our hair, and deep, belly laughter when the picture isn’t quite as straight as we anticipated, and the rain comes down just as we put together our picnic, and the box that we are carrying in from the trunk breaks all over the driveway. 

I’m trying to write a utopia with a new language. 

It’s not so clear cut. It’s not easy to imagine even though it’s more similar to the world we inhabit today. But the moments I hope for in my utopia get hidden today in waves of anger and miscommunication, in unshared dreams and turning away from those that love us most. In political outbursts, and a deep desire to have the last word, to be the most in-the-know, to have the most New York Times articles quoted. The moments get lost amidst the he-said, she-said. Amidst the tears that are not wiped away by a loved one, but looked away from in fear of the vulnerability they invite. Amidst the words said behind each other’s back to avoid having to see the human for the human that they are. 

Utopia is a world in which, as one digs to find the deeper meaning, another comes to offer their two hands to help dig a little further than one man can do on his own. A world in which conflict hurtles us forward, rather than brings us to a standstill, in which no human takes pleasure in crushing their opponent, but sees them as a partner in growth. When we can recognize our differences to be gifts, rather than reasons to stop communicating. A world in which we don’t spend more time arguing which problem deserves our attention most, but work together to just take care of them all, because if we just all worked together, we would be so far past the state that we find ourselves in now. A world in which we can look past our own needs and wants and paint a landscape of color and vibrancy and goodness that brings all of us together. 

A world in which we never choose silence in place of connection. 

A world in which we never choose anger in place of connection.

A world in which we never choose to yell over the sound of someone reaching out for connection.

And when I find myself in that white-picket-fence utopian planet with smiling store owners and those green green trees and the sky that never stops being blue and food that always comes out perfectly well and nobody ever fights with their neighbor about the state of their garden or their dog that flies out of the house barking and nobody ever falls off their bikes and skins their knee and I’m running and running and running I suddenly know what I am looking for. I am looking for me. And I’m looking for you. 

That green, green, green utopian world asks us to shed the human, the red and brown leaves across our lawns, the sand in our hair after a day at the ocean, the shared smiles with strangers when our children have temper tantrums in the grocery store. It removes conflict for the sake of ease, it removes inconveniences for the sake of efficiency, it removes pain for the sake of no blemishes. But it’s a world we would tire of quickly, for it leaves no room for our hearts, and our souls, and our courage. It leaves no room for the spiritual, for the searching, for rough drafts and the screeching sounds of a child learning to make music. It leaves no room for the broken words of someone trying to express their love, or learn a new concept, or for the songs that make our hearts ache in a way that heals us. It leaves no room for the lighting up of the sparks that lay all around us, in our souls, in our early mornings, in our travels across the planet.

That world leaves no room for us. 

For the messy child in me, and the sometimes tear-streaked woman I am slowly becoming.

For my parents, for my sisters and brothers, for my dearest friends.

For the people I work with, for the people that read my words.

And for that Uber driver I once cried with on the streets of LA. 

And that woman in the grocery store, with whom I discussed which brand of Tahini is best.

And for every stranger I’ve ever met, and for every stranger I haven’t yet.

Photo via The NYU Dispatch

A Short: To Wonder

“So, which kind of soul would you like to be?”

G-d was studying the soul in front of Him as it squirmed with the heavy decision.

“I can’t decide, G-d! It’s just too hard!”

“I have an idea.”

G-d took the soul to the edge of Heaven.

“Watch these two kinds of souls on earth, see for yourself what it all means.”


The girl tossed a rock into the crashing waves.

“That rock could travel a thousand miles, get stronger and stronger, and eventually sink a boat,” the girl said.

“Well, that won’t really happen,” said the woman.

“But doesn’t it make you think?”

“The rock doesn’t mean more than what it was, dear.”

“But that would mean everything is just what it is.”

“Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

“That would be heartbreaking.”

The woman shook her head.

“You, my dear, spend too much time thinking about the maybes when there’s a world of yes and no’s for you.”

“But maybes mean that there’s always something new!”

“Maybe makes you unorganized and inefficient.”

“Do you think G-d says maybe?”

“No, I don’t think G-d says maybe, because G-d knows.”

“But maybe…He doesn’t? Maybe He waits for our prayers every morning, and then decides.”

“Why do you always think you know G-d?”

“Well, I wonder about Him. I like to pray to Him.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody likes prayer.”

“No, I just said: I like prayer.”

“You pray when you need something.”

“No, I pray to get to know Him.”

“Get to know who?”

“G-d, of course, who else?”

“I feel dizzy.”

The two walk along the water, each in their thoughts, in their world.

“Do you think…” the girl begins to ask.

“Just stop – stop thinking for a moment!” the woman tugs her jacket tighter.

The girl looks across the ocean, and does all of her thinking, but just inside her head. She squeezes her lips together in a desperate attempt to stop her all of her thoughts from falling out onto the beach.

She wonders about the fish in the sea, and what they would be feeling like on a cold day like today, and she wondered what she might be like as a fish, and what kind of fish she would be, and –

“But don’t you like to wonder?!”

“No. No, I don’t like to wonder, because what is the point of wondering?”

“Does everything have to have a point?”

The woman sighed.

She kneels on the cold hard sand and looks into the girl’s eyes.

“Don’t you ever think about how much easier life would be if you didn’t have to wonder, and question, and think about everything?”

The girl shook her head “well, that doesn’t sound like any fun.”

Suddenly, the girl spied a fish, flapping and fluttering, gasping for breath on the cold sand.

“Oh! It’s dying!”

The girl ran towards the fish, the woman following behind. But by the time they reached the fish, it had given up its last breath to the cold air.

Tears fill the girl’s eyes. The woman puts a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s just a fish, dear.”

“Why does everything always end with me in tears?” cries the girl.

“One day, sweetheart, you’ll learn to let things go, to stop wondering and hoping and thinking all the time, and life will be easier. Won’t that be wonderful?”

“That’ll never happen to me,” the girl said sadly, as she wiped her tears.


“So, soul. Have you made your choice?”

G-d moved back to the table.

“Oh, yes, G-d. I have.”

“What will it be then?”

“I’d like to  wonder.”

26/52.


Featured Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

 

Do I Overthink?

“I used to live right over there, on that corner!”

“I made it very very clear…!!!”

“Someone take over, I can’t do this, I don’t know where we are!”

“Who is watching Billy?”

“Excuse me, is this Christopher street?”

I have a moment in which I am at home in a city that likes to remain a stranger as I tell a stranger that she is, indeed, on Christopher Street. It’s really a fluke that I know that, as this is my first time in this area, but I had just checked which street I was on, and what do you know? I can blend into the world, act like a local, tell her “yes! You’re on the right track.”

I’m in this part of town because I’m in a bad mood, and I hate bad moods. I’m not talking about a bad mood that is there for a reason, and therefore gives fire to my writing, or inspires me, or pushes me to be better. This is a bad mood that just sits in me, causing me to get irritated more easily, and feel generally low about how little I’ve been able to actually accomplish so far in my life.

I woke up in this bad mood, and I don’t have time for it. This week requires creativity and joy and excitement, and I can’t make time to wallow in self-pity, or whatever the bad mood required to allow me to slip out of its clutches. So I do something that usually works. I take myself to a part of the city I’ve never been to, and try to lose myself in the unfamiliar.

What initially attracts me to the area is a park that I found on google. They call it a secret garden and it looks like the perfect place to undo this bad mood and take deep breaths and realize that no matter what, life is going to be more than okay. I find the park, I find a seat, and I sit. I read my book, but I begin to feel antsy. I move to the other side of the park, yet deep in my stomach, I feel uneasy and uncomfortable, and I’m getting frustrated.

The park is silent, other than the squawks of birds who have the liberty to not care what humans think of them, and the occasional buzzing bee, yet the peace I’m so desperately seeking is refusing to settle in.

After trying to force it for all too long, I turn on my google maps to check out what else is around me, and I see that I am only a few short blocks from the water, and it’s like my legs know where to go before I realize it.

As I get closer to the water, I feel my heart begin to lift, and I wonder why I ever thought a silent park would be the perfect place to release the tension that was building up inside of me. I sit down near the water and take a deep breath and feel the tension ease out of me at last. I stare into the depths of the churning sea, and I feel the calm I had been seeking begin to enter me.

The other day, one of my students and I had a discussion about what calm is. I argued that calm is when you can find a place that is quiet, distraction-less and peaceful. She argued that calm does not have to equal that, that you can find a calm amidst the chaos.

I don’t truly grasp what she meant until I sit near the chaotic sea and feel a depth of calm I haven’t felt in a while.

It’s true.

As the waves slam themselves into the walls of the pier I sit on, I’m not sure precisely what it is, but I know that there is something so magical about the waves that keep returning to the shore, with the same intensity every, single, time.

I sit at the water, and breathe, and think, and cry a little because that’s how all of my bad moods finally leak out.

I leave, and I get on the subway, and I’m standing because I always stand.

A man, homeless, walks on, muttering intelligibly, about to walk past me, but then one man looks him in the eye and asks:

“What’s going on, man?”

They start to have a conversation, human to human.

It’s beautiful.

I don’t know if this man is a real man in all parts of his life, but today, right now, he is, because he isn’t afraid to talk to someone that everyone else avoids eye contact with.

Maybe beyond money, beyond medical intervention, beyond anything this homeless man needs is a human to look at him as a human.

“Excuse me, is this Christopher street?”

“Yes!”

“Thank you!”

But wait, I’m not a local, I’m as lost as you are, maybe more because I’ve convinced myself I know my way around, but I don’t, and that can be taken literally or metaphorically, but either way, I like your dress, and we probably have so much more in common than we think…

The thing is, either you can read this sorry-excuse-of-a-blog-post and pull a thousand meanings from it.

Or you can read it as my very detailed account of my day that may seem meaningless.

Or you can read it like I wrote it, as someone who sees meaning in every encounter, but is trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t always know the meaning, and some moments in life can be taken at face value and appreciated and remembered, and not everything has to be the life-changing moment I wish it was.

Sometimes, bad moods come, and they go, and that is that.

 

10/52


Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash