personal

Dear 12-year-old Me

It’s been ten (and a half, to be precise) years since I’ve been twelve.

I’ve been thinking about 12-year-old me a lot recently. I’m not sure why, she just keeps coming into my mind. It’s interesting, being an “adult,” because that’s all I ever wanted back then, that age when everything would just make sense.

I have good news and bad news for 12-year-old me.

The good news is, honestly, a lot of the time, it does make sense. Things just work. I get to do what I want. I’ve come a long way since 12, had a few muddled years in between, but now…I’m good. I understand what makes me tick, what makes me angry, and (roughly) how to make myself happy. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I mostly make sense to me now. When I was twelve, it was mostly murky.

The bad news is, that not all that rarely, without fail, comes a time in which nothing makes sense.

There are moments in which I’m going along with my hum-drum life, surrounded by luxuries I barely notice (and probably complain about), with friends and family on speed dial, people I know who would drop anything to be there for me if I needed it. I even have the audacity to continuously ask G-d for more.

And suddenly I’m hit with the realization that I am privileged beyond belief.

And it hurts to breathe.

And I enter a battle inside my mind – is G-d good? G-d is good to me, yet so painfully unkind to an unfathomable number of people. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around how insane the lives of people who SHARE THIS EARTH WITH ME are. Torture, heinous murder, desperate poverty, at the hands of dictators, genocides, starvation, addictive drugs, violence…it never ends.

There is an endless sea of hatred and pain, and bloody waters on this earth that I call beautiful because I’m able to look at just one tree.

But…the world…is good, right?

G-d…everything He does is for the good, right?

During these moments, I feel like I am twelve again. Confused, lost, heartbroken.

I want to just put a stick in the world’s gears, make it stop moving and moving and moving, and force it to look itself in the eye. I wish I could make a noise so loud that it will stop all of humanity in its tracks and force it to recalibrate, reconsider every action it has done until now.

I want to scream.

I don’t read the news because it hurts my soul, but who is that helping?

How can I ignore the pain?

Yet how can I listen, with hands tied?

I am so small.

This world and its millions of problems are so large.

And sometimes I feel like I’m just whispering into the void without even an echo.

I’ve seen how hard it is to effect change. What kind of back-breaking, mind-splitting labor it is. There are endless critics, people sitting, doing even less than you are, telling you how useless your activities are. Change, in its essence, is not inspiring. It is dirty and difficult, it is all-nighters and tears in your pillow, it is prayer and tiny, tiny steps.

And each of us, in our entire lives, can only barely paint one stroke in this enormous masterpiece.

But what a stroke that is.

Because there are people who go through their entire lives without ever picking up the paintbrush.

12-year-old-me…I am trying.

I am not rich. I don’t have any fancy titles. I had no fancy education.

But what I do have is a heart. The same heart that made 12-year-old, and 13-year-old, and 17-year old me cry into my pillow, and the same heart that caused all kinds of tantrums, the same heart that fiercely loves her family, loves life and loves growth.

I’m trying to be grateful. To truly notice how good I have it, how lucky I am, how full of gifts my life is.

I’m trying to notice. To notice the pain on others’ faces, to try to do something to help heal them. To reach out, to do kindnesses in the small creases of my every day, in the moments between moments.

I can’t wave a magic wand, I can’t put on a cape and save the day. This world has joy and miracles painted in with evil and hatred, and that’s the way it’s always been.

I want to tell 12-year-old me that it gets better, because it did, and it does, and it continues to. But the older I get, the more pain I come across.

I don’t know where my life is headed, I don’t know what ever comes next, what each new dawn brings, but I pray that I am gifted with the opportunities to shake some foundations and bring about the change I so desperately hope to see.

Perhaps it’s time I use my words for something more valuable.

I want to have a hand in the masterpiece.

So I’m picking up my paintbrush.

For twelve-year-old me.

And the twelve-year-old in me.

 

 

27/52


Photo by Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash

An Ode to NYC

Over the last few weeks, my words have been stagnant. Unavailable, I should say.

I’ve had ideas, yet their formation was distant, just slightly out of reach.
It took approximately 45 seconds on the subway for my words to come rushing back, fighting to be heard and written and that’s why I’m standing in a subway car, writing.
This city is magic.
It usually smells bad, it’s overcrowded, it’s nearly impossible to get anywhere by car, and there’s only a few days a year that the weather is pleasant enough to actually enjoy the entire experience of walking down the street.
But man, what it gives in place of all the above is pure magic.
It’s a city that never sleeps, meaning people don’t stop doing. People spend less time dreaming and more time exploring, demanding and making things happen.
Today, I overheard a woman talking about climate change and it threw me for a loop – I was shaken by how much we share this world, how much we intake all the same images and words and messages, and we all live our lives so, so similarly.
Oh man, this city is magic.
Today, the fog covered all the tops of the buildings, almost begging me to just focus on the here and now. I couldn’t see the soaring sky scrapers, I could only see the people who walked near me, on ground level.
I’m obsessed with the way that I’ve lived here for 7 years, and I know my way around, yet I’ll never stop finding new treasures, new ways, new adventures.
What could be more inspiring than sharing a city with thousands of souls, all sharing this city that has stories etched into every stone, a city in which every path is so beaten it’s already new again.
I’m in love – in love with a city that keeps giving me reasons to smile, that promises to never be boring or slow or tired. It promises to show up when I seek inspiration, when I seek different and unique and excitement.
And I know, I know one day I’ll leave this place behind, for another lover – a quieter world in which I can once again hear myself think. Expansive space in which my imaginary children can run and not get hit by cars or kidnapped by strangers. Somewhere I don’t silently curse all the way home from the supermarket, the bags not digging into my palms, because I’d be driving  and they’d be in the trunk.
But that’s tomorrow, and today is today, and the fog told me to stop trying to peek at what else is out there, what might be next, what else can I find.
Today, I still have a wealth of adventures and treasures, a world far from completely explored, new alleyways and tiny bookshops, people to observe, these busy streets are waiting for me to hurry down them, and watch, and write, and learn, and write.
Because man. This is a city of magic.

25/52.

An Ode to My Boys

The oldest grandchild in my immediate family was a boy. The most recent grandchild, born this week, is a boy.
The six grandchildren born between the two also…have been boys.

I’ve got eight nephews, and this poem is an ode to the beauty that they are in my life.

To my first one:
Tonight, as I read you a story in your bed,
My mind wandered as you leaned your almost-seven-year-old head on my shoulder.
I felt your little sighs and the little struggles on your big heart,
As you prepared to go to sleep, a big brother for the 4th time.
It was a long book, and I asked if you were ready to press pause,
And right before you said yes, you said quietly “can you just read one more page?”
And my heart split, and I read three more pages.
You have younger brothers, four of them now,
And three little cousins who live past the hay-filled farms and old American towns on the other side of this country.
There’s 8 little guys in all.
And my love, for each, continues to grow.
For the little eyes that blink awake in my arms,
And the little eyes that blink shut as I sit nearby,
And the little hands that squeeze tight,
And the tighter hugs when it’s only been a couple of days.
And the giggles, and the jokes that really make me laugh,
And the long talks about space, and the Mayor, and saving the day.
For the FaceTimes, and the naps on my lap.
For the exploration, and the trust I see in your sweet little eyes.
For the way you reach out your hands and ask to play.
For the songs we sing together, for the inside jokes we share, for the little whispered secrets.
And for the moment your hand grips mine as we walk down the street,
my heart not ready for the fact that any day now you’ll realize you’re too big for that.
And the best part about loving all of you
Is sharing you with all your aunties and uncles.
Because it means you’ll always be loved.
And you’ll never doubt
That the world has your back
And that you’re capable of everything.

To my newest one:
Last night, I sat near your oldest brother,
Waiting for his many thoughts to drift
Into peaceful slumber
And tears found my eyes.
My heart swelled at the thought
Of you: my newest boy,
Ready to join the chorus of little boy voices
And my tears fell
But they were happy tears, baby,
And they filled eyes that will watch you grow,
My heart barely containing my love for you,
And all my little boys.

 

 

24/52


Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash

The Things I’ve Seen

I’ve been MIA on this blog for a few weeks.

It doesn’t really matter if anyone else noticed, it was a weight on my mind that got heavier with each week that passed without a blog post.
I like the me that is able to get a blog post out every week. That is a productive me, an eye on the prize me, a sticking to the commitment me – the me that I always believed would be a writer.
Alas, the last few weeks (five, to be specific), have been busy in a different way. I’ve been on the west coast twice, with full-length flights between each visit, I’ve spent time at the pacific and the Atlantic Ocean, I finished a summer term of college just barely submitting my last assignment on time, I’ve been laughing until I’ve cried, taken more pictures than I really ever have, I met my brand new nephew and created the sweetest memories that I’m now packing away for safekeeping.
And I’ve written about 25 blog posts that I hated.
Nothing has felt right.
I felt a little like good writing requires devotion that I don’t have, and that I’ve been relying on the seat of my pants for years, and I’ve been swimming in the sea of kind words, forgetting that writing requires serious work, and I can’t just hope words are waiting around when I’m ready to find them.
I have to present myself every day, and write, every word.
And as I prepare to teach creative writing for the third year, I need to give my writing a new promise of commitment, of showing up, of giving it what it deserves so that it returns pieces to me that I’m proud of.
The last few weeks have been busy, in the best ways, and I’ve discovered G-d hidden between cracks, in his every creation, and sometimes sitting in the wide open.
Like in the bluest water I’ve ever laid eyes on, in the mountains near Vancouver, and in the tiny blue eyes of my newest nephew as he lay in my arms, his entire being trusting me to care for him and love him.
That’s when He was revealed.
But I also saw Him in the eyes of homeless people on the streets of Seattle, as I found myself inching away from them, feeling horribly guilty but genuinely afraid, I closed my eyes and I reminded myself that we came from the same cloth, life just took us two very different directions.
And I wondered why G-d gave some an easy, happy life, while He gave others countless challenges that left them begging for food in a city that didn’t want them.
But I saw that we are each G-ds creations and that there is no way to measure anyone’s worthiness, because all I saw was the effect of life circumstances, nothing more. I could not see their souls, I could not see where they were in the pathways of life.
I saw G-d’s handiwork in the people, all the people that I came across, in the flight attendant who was dealing with boyfriend troubles, in her friend who grumbled “men, am I right?”, in the little family that sat next to me, their small baby playing peek-a-boo with me, in my nephew that played peek-a-boo with me through a phone, his infectious grin making my heart leap, in the mom at the airport who just wanted her daughter to have a challenge-less life as she demanded to speak to the airline manager, in her daughter who inched away, red with embarrassment, in the TSA employee smiling widely with a hidden joke as each passenger went through security, in my Uber driver who is just trying to make it in LA as a makeup artist who talked me through my tears as I left my three little nephews after living in their home for three weeks. Because I hate goodbyes, always.
I’ve had endless reminders of just how much we all have in common.
I’ve seen G-d’s beautiful wonders, as if He looked at the world thoughtfully, pulled out His paintbrush and painted breathtaking landscapes just for our enjoyment.
I think He did it because He knew we’d build cities that blocked our view of the sky and the sea, and we’d forget that the whole world is not contained within a couple of blocks, piling our frustrations and anger up and up and up until we found ourselves at a sea that’s more beautiful than we realized it could be. He put those there for us.
And I realized I seem to write about the same things, over and over and over, I’m drawn back to the same themes and the same ideas.
Maybe rather than hating that, it’s time I embrace it, and see where it takes me.
By giving me words, G-d asked me to create, to add to His glorious world, to connect to others using a most powerful tool.
I don’t know why words float through my head and onto a paper, I don’t know why they sometimes flow and sometimes don’t, I don’t know why I write poems in my mind in the shower only to have them flutter away as I pick up a pen.
But dreams are a procrastinators life-source, so now, I say: I am a writer.
20/52.

Photo was taken by Chanchie Krinsky, in Porteau Cove Park.

Mornin’

It’s been loud for weeks.

Loud externally, loud internally.
I haven’t allowed myself to stop, to just think.
And breathe.
There are always things to do, or people around, distractions from the whisper inside that was getting louder and louder, calling out:
Just stop!
This morning, for whatever reason, I decided to take ten minutes outside to drink my coffee. Rather than pairing my coffee with typing, or working, or talking, I took myself outside and sat in the early morning air.
I didn’t always love mornings. I used to consider myself a night owl, but a few years ago, my friend encouraged me to get up early with her and work out. It was then that I realized how life-infusing the mornings are. There’s something about the air, and the quiet, and the fact that everyone else is still sleeping.
So, although I wake up each day at 6:15, today I chose to take ten minutes of my usually tightly scheduled morning to sit outside.
And I began to breathe.
And my soul used the first oxygen it’s seen in weeks to release a slew of feelings, rising to the surface.
Sometimes, it feels like life is happening to me. Sometimes it’s so busy, you just have to let it happen to you. There isn’t time to grab on to each horn, to fully envelop yourself in every experience, happy or sad.
Summer is often this way.
The sunny days blend together in one constant chaos of laughter, exhaustion, swimming, working hard, and sweating it all out.
This morning, when I took that deep breath, I felt it all slow down a little.
It was a breezy 68 degrees, a reminder of early fall, the world was open and clean, and it felt good.
And at that moment, I remembered something I haven’t given much thought to recently.
This world is inherently good.
Its goodness gets blurred through our tears, covered in the dirt we rub off of our shoes and drifts away as we fall asleep after another long day.
But, that goodness is there.
And it’s most easy to find in that early glow of a summer morning before the sun beats down on my neck, and the noise levels reach a crescendo again, inside, and out.
And today, I held those ten minutes dear, as I absorbed their emptiness, and in that sense, their absolute preciousness.
And I sipped my coffee. And I texted my friend:
“Thank you for teaching me about mornings.”
18/52

The Little Bird

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.

 

16/52.

5 Things I Learned From My Grandfather

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.

The truth is, I don’t see a lot of myself in my Zeidy. Perhaps it’s simply the generation gap, or because I was born in America, and he in Israel, or perhaps because my life has been nearly bump free, whereas he persevered through challenges to get to where he was. Whatever it is, I know that I can learn from my grandfather in a lot of ways. As I was thinking about this day coming up, I thought about the things that so personified my Zeidy, and that I felt I could do well to learn from him. Here are 5:

1. Keep it simple.

From what I’ve heard from the old days, and what I saw for myself, was that my Zeidy didn’t have much he wanted for himself. He had a simple diet, made up of simple, tasty foods. As I rooted around in my grandparent’s kitchen Saturday night, looking for something new, and different, and exciting to eat, my grandfather sat down to the same exact meal, each Saturday night. Food is a big part of my life, and I am not ashamed to find it enjoyable to explore new flavors and cook up a storm. But – it would do me well to remember more often, as my grandfather clearly knew, that we don’t live to eat, we eat to live.

2. Joke around.

I’m a serious girl. I like big conversations and real life things. There are things in life that I believe should not be joked about. My grandfather was a serious man. He dealt with issues of great importance on a daily basis. He was constantly surrounded by people who were going through difficult times. He knew, better than most of us surely, that life was no fun and games. But if you ask any of his grandchildren what pops into their mind when they think of Zeidy, I will assure you that right up there on the list is the memory of his practical jokes and teasing. He had a light spirit and found joy in putting his grandchildren and many guests at ease. He would try on our sunglasses and jackets that he found laying around, he’d tease us about all kinds of things, and I will never forget the infectious grin on his face as he did so.


3. Talking less, but talking when you should.

I talk a lot. Not everyone believes this about me, but then there are times that I’ve met people, and when I told them I’m an introvert, they did not believe me, because when I’m excited about something, I could go on, and on, and on. I know I talk a lot. My grandfather did not. He could sit at his Shabbat dinner table, and not utter a word, just listen and observe. But, at the same time, if something came up, or someone did something that he did not find appropriate, he would speak up. His silence was not a result of fear, or being shy, or not having what to say. He simply recognized the value of words and did not waste them.

4. Doing good things, quietly.

I like doing good things. I get a lot of joy from doing things for people. But that doesn’t exactly make me special – it’s a human thing. What made my grandfather special, is that no one else in the world, other than those he helped, knew about it. After he passed away, our family heard countless stories from all over the planet about people that had been quietly assisted by my grandfather, whether it was financially or emotionally. He never bragged, he never even mentioned anything. He was the worlds greatest secret keeper, and his secrets only began to leak when those who had been touched could not hold it in any longer.

5. Overall, I think about myself way too much.

Clearly, I think about myself all the time, as this blog post shows. But, even if one is thinking about themselves in regards to making oneself better, I’ve learned that the less we think about ourselves, the better. When we keep our focus on others, we naturally become better versions of ourselves. By making our lives about others, we correct our flaws so that we can be a better friend, child, employee etc, in a way that obsessing about our flaws can never help. My grandfather lived a life for others, and today, he is deeply, and warmly, remembered by all those who had the privilege of knowing him.

Always, on this day, I remember the last moment I saw my grandfather, as I left his house after dinner on a Wednesday night, as I waved goodbye to him, as I called out “Good night, Zeidy!”. He smiled and waved, and two days later, I found out that those were the last words I’d ever say to him in person.
I’m just one of his many, many, grandchildren, yet, then and now, I still have a relationship with him that I cherish. I am forever grateful that my genes stem from this great man who lived a full and generous life, never chased honor or attention, but left a legacy that the wealthiest men on earth would be envious of.
15/52.

 


Photo by David Becker on Unsplash

Some Weeks

Some weeks are for looking inward,

For disappearing into the pages in a book,
For dancing like nobody is watching,
For long walks with friends,
For hard-work-project-deadlines,
For cooking with family,
For laughing with tears in your eyes,
For bus rides you thought you’d write on,
For real tears that bubble up from a tired soul,
For talking with your 4 year old nephew about how bodies work,
For weird dreams that make you think,
For nostalgia and hope,
For forgetting to write a blog post but writing one just as the week ends,
Once again.
13/52.

They Won’t Win

Today, there are tears. There is desperation, fear, frustration.
How many times can this happen to us?
Over the last couple of days, I was reading the book Man’s Search For Meaning. Viktor Frankl’s famous book in which he details his theories, further developed by his horrific experience in the Holocaust; his key focus is that when one believes their suffering has meaning, they can survive it. It’s when one feels hopeless, when one sees no meaning in their pain, that they collapse in the grief and everything ends.
This theory resonates deeply with the teachings of Chassidus, a school of thought, a way of life, that has been intertwined in mine forever. What I’ve learned, and believe so deeply, is that every single thing has meaning and purpose – even a leaf falling from a tree. How much more so, the greatest triumphs and tragedies in our life.
Yet, as I look at the images of Lori Kaye, the heroic woman who lost her life, it seems so cruel to even think these words. What kind of meaning can be found in the loss of a woman so full of life? What kind of purpose is there in the death of a mother and wife, a vibrant community member, a living, breathing human being?
I feel helpless in the wake of tragedy. My words feel useless, my conversations about nothing feel wasteful and my conversations about tragedy leave me aching. I’m tired, and I’m aching to be proactive.
What can we do?
As I opened my prayer book this morning, I read the very first words I read every morning “I hereby take upon myself [the mitzvah] “love your fellow as yourself.”
After taking every practical measure we can take to put our physical defenses up against inevitable hate and violence, what else can we do?
We can only love.
How often do we judge, tear down, blame, look down upon others for even the smallest of actions? How quickly do we assume we know someone’s entire self when we observe them for only a tiny part of their entire life?
We mutter under our breaths, we avoid people in supermarket aisles, we whine when we have to spend time with some.
We scroll through our social media feeds, mocking and laughing, tearing people apart when they can’t even defend themselves – perhaps that is worst of all.
Can we commit to perfection?
I think not.
For me to stand here, on this mournful day, and promise I’ll never think ill of another person based on large or small reasons is laughable and impossible.
But can I try?
Can I work at it, each day, just a little?
Can I keep my eyes focused forward, can I raise my voice in protest when those around me slip into negativity? Can I try to see the slightest positivity in an otherwise poor scenario?
Yes.
I can try.
And I will.
Because that – that is all I can do.
And perhaps, all of our collective trying, will inspire more and more doing, because in numbers comes great hate, but in numbers could come great beauty, and light, and joy.
And G-d knows we can use all of it we can get.
May the soul of Lori Kaye be lifted to the highest heights, and may all those who are suffering today find meaning in their pain.
Not today, but one day.
But until we get there, let us do what we still have the power to do – add more love.
I’m angry that we live in a world in which hate still has so much power – but I also believe we underestimate the power of love.
It’s easy to hate. It’s often harder to love. The harder the task, the sweeter the results. Hate is cowardly, love is brave.
G-d is hearing from me today because as I sit and chat with my 2-year-old nephew, I don’t want to think about him having to grow up in a dark world.
G-d is hearing from me today because I don’t want to keep having conversations about how we can better secure our synagogue, our home, our events that are quite literally held to spread the light of Judaism.
G-d is hearing from me today because I don’t want to have to one day look my children in the eye, and somehow explain, and calm, and console the pain that comes from realizing the world is a scary place.
G-d is hearing from me today because a woman is being buried before she lived out her life, because she was forced to die, because she represented light, and she came face to face with evil, and it seems like evil keeps winning.
G-d is hearing from me today.
But I was put on this earth to give back to this world, and you bet I’m going to do my best to only give it light.
Throughout our history, they’ve come for us, they’ve hurt us, they took our loved ones, kicked us in the dirt, and laughed in our faces.
But you know who always won?
It was us.
Dirt streaked, tear-filled, weary and tattered, the Jewish nation has always come through the other side, raising a hand in victory.
And we’ll do it again.
Bearing our torches. Shining our light, try as they do to envelop us in darkness. We’ve got a spirit that can be broken and trodden upon, but it can’t be put out.
They’ve tried before.
But they don’t know what we know:
Evil will never claim victory, not in the end.

Chasing Happy

Not too long ago, I was catching up with someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

As I finished bringing her up to speed about where I was in my life these days, she remarked: “You sound so happy.”

The statement startled me.

While attempting to attain happiness was no strange concept to me, someone letting me know that I was happy was a little unsettling.

After a moment or two of silence, I looked back at her, and while grasping it in my mind at the same time, I replied:

“I…am. I am happy. Thank G-d.”

I’ve been thinking about this non-incident ever since.

Am I happy?

What is happiness, really?

This is a concept I’ve grappled with in my mind for probably as long as I’ve been able to grasp that happiness was more than getting the lollipop I wanted (don’t worry, I still get confused.)

My life has been filled with ups and downs, learning and disillusion, mistakes and triumphs, as I walked my slow but steady path towards where I was headed. For a long time, I was very confused about where I was headed, career-wise. I tried all kinds of different things.

Friends and family laughed as I made self-deprecating jokes about being a quitter, about conveniently leaving jobs just in time for summer break, about how I’m a millennial who is just lazy and wants to do nothing and get paid for it.

But really, what was happening is that I tried new jobs to find a depth of happiness, and time and time again, my job was doing the opposite of bringing me happiness – it was dragging me down, silencing my creativity or leaving me completely unfulfilled.

Am I happy?

I certainly do not always feel happy. There are days that I wake up tired, stressed and anxious. Lack of sleep, an awkward interaction, missing a good meal, having too much or too little of a social life – all of these things seem to impact my day-to-day happiness on a much larger scale than anything else I’m doing with my life.

There are bad weeks and good weeks, there are painful experiences and joyful experiences, and these are all extremely intertwined on a daily basis.

There are days that I want to hurl heavy, hurtful things at G-d, stomp my feet and yell as loud as I possibly can, because I’m just so mad at Him.

Do all of these things mean that I am not happy?

I’ve often allowed myself to believe that.

When I’ve woken up in a bad mood, I have allowed that bad mood to control my day, because I was obviously just not happy. Why try to fight something that is not in my control? I’m not happy, why try to be?

Once, during a conversation with a close friend about happiness, sadness and all that comes in between, I mentioned something of that nature. I said, “I don’t feel like I control my moods, it all depends on how I wake up.”

She laughed, startling me, and refused to accept that that was the truth.

I took her laughter as a challenge, and the next time I woke up in a bad mood, I did all I could in my power to fight it, and transform that mood.

I succeeded.

The next time I woke up in a bad mood, I tried it again, with the memory of my prior success giving me confidence.

I failed.

Because there is no absolute path to happiness.

Because I’m learning that happiness does not mean that we don’t cry, that we don’t have bad days, that we don’t fight or say stupid things. Happiness does not mean that we have everything we could need or want, that everything is working in our favor, or that the sun is shining brightly.

True happiness is so much deeper, and I’ve finally begun to really understand that.

I want to say that true happiness comes from having a job you love, or being surrounded by people who love you, but these are privileged things to say. These are things that bring me happiness, but are often not possible for others to achieve, for various reasons. I have barely yet lived my life, and I am not foolish to think that I have dealt with life’s most painful challenges, and maintained my happiness through them. I have experienced pain, but in no way that compares to the level of pain that others have, thank G-d. So I feel cruel to claim that I have the key to happiness, because I most certainly do not. But, I will share the one thing that I have discovered that has brought me happiness, that I hope all can have as well.

It is an awareness that I try to sharpen every, single, day of my life:

I am not the most important person in my world.

Are you laughing? Maybe you’re saying “are you kidding, you absolute child? Obviously you aren’t, you spoiled, privileged, little girl.”

Did you say that? If yes, that’s okay. I get it. It seems like an incredibly simple concept that literally everyone should be aware of.

Yet, it is the single most powerful contributor to my happiness.

I am not the most important person in my world.

How does that practically make a mark on my happiness?

It reminds me that my job on earth is to give.

I have been given skills, gifts, and opportunities that are for me to use to make this world a better place.

It has allowed me to build a strong relationship with my G-d, even when I want to hurt Him with all my might. It has allowed my ego to step aside, even for just a few minutes each day, and recognize that it’s not about me. This world is so much bigger than I am, and it is filled with incredible, unique individuals, and I am a part of the tapestry. I have an important role to fill, and nobody else can replace me – but my contribution to this world is much more valuable than my happiness.

You may say that is the path to negative thoughts of oneself, but I’ve found it to be quite the contrary – it has made me value myself in a whole new way and keeps my perspective on how I can give, rather than in which ways I can take.

And I am happy.

Are there things that I really, really want?

Are there things that I believe I need, and that I don’t have?

Are there moments in which I collapse from the pain that life brings?

Are there nights and days that I wonder about my future, afraid?

The answer to all of these is a resounding yes.

Yet, I am grateful to G-d that He has allowed me to feel happiness in my core.

Like everything good, happiness too, comes from good old-fashioned hard work, quite conflicting with the path to happiness that we are often fed in modern day media.

Perhaps, to be happy is our generations greatest struggle.

But is it achievable?

Yes. Without a doubt: yes, it is.

 

 

Disclaimer:

This entire piece was written with the idea that what is stopping someone from attaining happiness are mindsets that they have control over. If you are struggling with depression or severe anxiety, please seek the assistance of a trained therapist or speak to your doctor. Speak to someone, reach out, and ask for help. Happiness is achievable for you too.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741, or call the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255

You don’t have to do this alone.

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Featured Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash