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.
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