It’s been loud for weeks.
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.
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.
1. Keep it simple.
2. Joke around.
3. Talking less, but talking when you should.
4. Doing good things, quietly.
5. Overall, I think about myself way too much.
Next June will be here before I know it, and I’ll be marveling again, and all I pray is that come each June, I have the joy of marveling at how much beauty, how much good, how much growth traveled the days with me.
I’ve been trying to write this for weeks. I’ve started this post probably fifteen times, with various different angles and approaches. They all sounded cliché, and exactly the way I didn’t want to start this post. But recently, I was sitting on a bus, just having this moment of recognition that this is as young as I’ll ever be.
There’s something sad about that. Because my life is pretty great, and knowing that this time of ease and ability to be living for myself is slipping away kind of makes me want to dig my heels into the ground and make it stop.
I like being young.
I guess everyone does.
I didn’t always love being young. I spent my first 18-19 years wishing to be older, wishing for someone to take me seriously, waiting for people to stop telling me that I’m too young for things.
People don’t really say that anymore.
Somehow, I’ve edged myself into the world of being old enough to have an opinion, to be heard, to be trusted.
It makes me think about the days I lived out as a teenager.
Sometimes I tell people that I was the most teenageriest teenager, with every hormone, every really, really bad day, every tear soaked diary entry.
I also was a teenager who had opinions, constantly, who spent late nights writing, and long days arguing my point, and primarily asking a big question: why do adults not listen to the young?
I constantly ran into scenarios in which I had to explain myself, defend my actions and opinions, apologize for my feelings…things, I’ve realized, I haven’t had to do in a while, and I’ve finally realized it’s because I’m growing up.
And that makes me sad.
Because my feelings today are no more valid than they were when I was 16.
Sure, I may have a few years more of life experience, and yes, I often look back at the way I thought about certain things back then and laugh at my misled ways.
I am grateful for the experiences, for the way I’ve grown, for the perspectives I now have that I didn’t have back then.
But none of that invalidates what I thought back then, because if that were the case, I’d never be able to catch up.
In five years, my beliefs now will be ridiculous and uneducated. In ten years, those thoughts will follow suit.
If we’re constantly striving to be the most educated and the most confident, we’ll never win.
So why are teenagers treated like the children they no longer are?
When I first began toying with the idea of going into the field of counseling, after a lifetime of foreseeing my career as a writer, I was immediately attracted to the idea of working with teenagers.
I wasn’t sure why, but I had to explore it. I began working as a creative writing teacher for teenage girls because I needed to know how I worked with teenagers. Did I hate the experience; did I love it? Did it give me energy, or drain me of it?
Pretty quickly, I discovered that it was exactly what I had hoped it would be.
Challenging, terrifying, incredible, enlightening and enriching.
You know why?
Because teenagers are the best of what we are.
I can have real, exciting, intriguing conversations with my students.
They are blunt and open, and willing to talk about difficult topics.
Once, during a conversation with someone, I fell upon this idea that I’ve carried with me ever since – growing up is simply about learning boundaries.
Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s precisely the difference between maturity and immaturity, and maturity is a wonderful thing. But there is this unique boundary-less way that teenagers live that gives them the exact power to change the world, and be the incredible voices our world needs.
Sure, teenage girls often live their lives amidst drama and chaos, tears and fights, but their emotions are so wide open, so honest and real, so vulnerable. Those are things that adults begin to put up gates around, and that is exactly why I find teenagers to be so refreshing.
Perhaps I’m too close to teenagerhood to be speaking like this – but perhaps it is specifically because of my proximity to the age group that I need to speak up.
People are afraid of teenagers, because teenagers detest ingenuity, tricks, and lies, and they won’t be afraid to tell you that.
It’s possible that I’ve been privileged to get to know a unique and incredible group of teenagers, which is not something I’ll deny. But I have a strong feeling that more teenagers fit into this description than don’t. Even the ones who feel like they are the only ones like themselves in the world, even the ones who are struggling with their mental health, even the one who feels like a loner, or the one who is the most popular amongst their friends.
The teenage years are by no means easy ones. Sure, lots of adults will hurry to interject – they don’t have to deal with full-time jobs, or pay taxes, or raise children. That is certainly true. But they are in the midst of laying down a lifelong foundation, and some people are telling them that these years are crucial, and some people are telling them that these years are meaningless, and the truth is, it’s a little bit of both.
Life is hard for everyone, at every stage, in different ways.
Children, mostly, are hopefully protected from the bigger struggles in life. Adults, throughout their life, develop a hard protective gear to deal with struggles, whether that is coping mechanisms, tools, reliable support, etc. Teenagers are between these two worlds, still exposed to the elements, not yet filled with a protective toolkit, but yet, they are facing real adult difficulties – betrayal, confusion, and the potential of making mistakes that can have a real impact on their future. The combination often leads to outbursts, pain, hurt, and the pull towards bad choices. The desire to belong right now is so strong that harmful decisions are easily made.
But, oh, the passion. The vigor, the excitement, the one-track-minded belief in something. That is what I call power.
Again and again, teenagers are belittled, distrusted and not given the validation and tools they deserve.
They are not listened to, they are not believed, and their unique perspective and depth are not valued.
How can we take an entire demographic that is so full of life and dreams and goals, and basically tell them that they cannot be children anymore, that play and imagination and exploration is something of the past, yet also tell them that they cannot be adults yet, and therefore everything they believe, and learn and are passionate about is not yet important?
I was a teenager who found herself filled with passion for so much, who was told time and time again, bluntly or subliminally, that my opinions don’t yet matter.
Today, I get to spend a little portion of every day with incredibly deep and strong teenage girls whom I have come to admire and expect greatness from. Not in ten years, but now. Every single one of them. Even though each one is so different from the other. I started teaching to find out if I was just as scared of teenagers as so many other people, but I’ve discovered that I kind of really never want to stop.
Imagine what the world would be like if everyone believed in our teenagers, rather than expecting the worst from them.
I, for one, would love to find out.
“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.
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.
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?”
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.
These past few weeks have been hectic.
Finishing the Passover holiday with horrible news out of Poway, spending the week going wildly between intense Jewish pride, and fear, and sadness, and love, was a wild experience.
Poway bumping up into Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Hashoah, one day that celebrates Israel and one day that memorializes those lost during the Holocaust, followed by Israel being torrentially stormed by 650 rockets out of Gaza, killing 4, injuring countless others, and coming to this week, on a day that memorializes all those lost due to the terrorism and wars in Israel. I’m emotionally exhausted just writing that all, but it’s all taken an even deeper toll on my mind and my heart.
I’ve always, always, always leaned away from writing anything remotely political on this blog, because, in my mind, politics divide, and I’ve wanted this blog to be a place of connection, of relatability.
So, when I write about Jew’s or Israel or anything of the sort, I run the risk of people turning their noses up at me.
But I love Israel. And I am a Jew.
So what am I doing?
I preach authenticity, but at the end of the day, I shape the way I want to be seen, and that ends up hurting me, and my nation as a whole.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to feel pride and joy in being a Jew.
Sure, I know that it is impressive that we’re still here after centuries of being persecuted and chased from land after land, but when I think about the number of 6 million dead in the Holocaust, I just don’t feel so lucky.
When I think about the endless number of Jews who have died because of their faith, tortured in their homes and workplaces, taken from their families, their lives that they worked so hard to build up, I just don’t feel so lucky.
When I have this tiny sliver of dread in my heart, every single week after Shabbat, fearful of hearing news out of my home state, where my parents and family live, devoting their lives and working tirelessly to represent Judaism in a positive way. I’m terrified of hearing the exact news that happened in Poway, and now my fear is even more valid. I just don’t feel so lucky.
These things sometimes push me to think “is this even worth it?”
When I see hurtful and painful social media posts, with people missing the point completely, blind with hatred towards my people, it fills me with a pain so great, a scream fills my throat that I just never let out, because what good does it do to cry out against injustice, when injustice is always there?
Why has the world chosen my tiny homeland, a country so full of incredible people, and breathtaking sights, a tiny country all of our own, why have they chosen to hate it so deeply?
Is there any country on earth that takes such hatred, such blind, thick, twisted blame?
The strongest proof to me that G-d exists is that Israel, barely visible on a globe, is somehow the world focus in so many ways. What other country can achieve that, if they are not somehow supported by some other-wordly force?
Today, during my morning daily prayers, I read the words in my prayer book, “Az Yashir.” With tears in my eyes, I realized I was saying the very words sung by the Jewish nation, so many years ago, on the shore of the great sea that they had just been miraculously saved from.
Here I am, a young woman in 2019, saying these very same words each morning, filled with the same hope, the same love for my Creator.
Yes. It’s so insanely difficult to understand why our nation has been tortured, killed and hated for centuries.
But I know social media agrees with me on this – the haters make you stronger. The haters are proof that you are doing something inherently important.
I don’t know why 6 million were killed, I don’t know why our people have to endure so much loss and pain, but I am still here. I don’t know why, but I know that if I am, it is because I am here for a reason, and I must never hide in the shadows. If I have a platform, no matter how small, I will use it.
Call me crazy. Call me whatever you want, really.
I know who I am.
There’s absolutely nothing political about this, it is my soul, and my inalienable right to shout it from the rooftops. I’ve silenced my scream countless times, but here it is.
I AM A JEW.
And I am proud.
A few months ago, I wrote this article, inspired by a tree (see the linked article for an image of the tree) my father saw on a family friend’s extensive, gorgeous property. His house is edged up on a lake, surrounded by acres and acres and acres of trees, wooden cabins, wildlife, natural creeks, and old beaten paths. Nature at its best. But one tree stands out. A short hike from our friend’s house stands a tree, that our friend introduced my father to months ago. He photographed it to send to me, as inspiration for my writing. The trees long trunk is lying on the ground, as dead trees often do, but it’s trunk then takes a wild turn upwards, growing towards the sky. I took one lesson then, about anti-Semitism, and the ability to get back up when everyone else believes you’re at death’s door.
Today, home for the week of Passover, I went with my brothers and father to see the tree for myself. As I laid my eyes on it, as we stood around it and took in its grandeur, I learned another lesson from this tree.
You see, this tree is huge and old, and strong. It beat the odds, it is impressive and beautiful, and even still has buds on its highest branches. But as it soars to the sky, it leans against another tree right next to it, inching past it in height, but clearly reliant on the other trees strength for survival.
I’m studying psychology and counseling at the moment, with a goal to one-day practice as a therapist, g-d willing. Each day, I learn more about the intricacies of the human brain, the fragility of it, and the impossible tenacity of the human spirit. We, as humans, can endure incredible pain, and still come through. It’s true.
As we climb through a crisis, beaten and bruised, we come through stronger, somehow. We fold back into our lives with more wisdom, more depth, more beauty. It’s easy to credit ourselves, and it’s easy to believe we can do it, all on our own.
Because we can.
But do we have to?
When I study psychology, about the various disorders, about the ups and downs of the human experience, I ache with the desire to have all the knowledge already. I just want to know how to help, how to have the answers, how to be there for people and be able to guide them through their life.
Today, as I looked at the tree, I realized that I am training to be that tree. That supporting tree, the tree that is simply there to help another tree stand. I realized that I, myself, have quite a few trees just like that, supporting me.
And I realized that it doesn’t make the tree less impressive, needing to lean on its friend, it only makes the scene that much more moving, that much more impressive, to see one tree standing strong, helping another tree soar.
How often, as humans, do we just want to be able to take care of ourselves? How often do we resist leaning on others for support, at the risk that we will look weak, or tired, or incapable?
As a future therapist, I hope that I can be the strongest supporting tree possible. That every client that walks through my doors can lean on me, and soar.
And I can learn to look at my support around me, and recognize them for what they are. We all need each other, and we all can be the support that someone else needs to climb a little higher.
That tree would die without its friend. As impressive as it is, it needs support to thrive.
Humans aren’t all that different.
So if you have a working shoulder, stretch it out for someone to lean on.
And if you’re a little tired, and your shoulders are drooping, I’ve got a shoulder that I’m willing to share, and I think you’d be surprised to discover how many shoulders are surrounding you, waiting and ready to share the load.
So far, this tree, this incredible, beautiful, stoic tree has taught me a lot. In the words of our friend, who stood there with us: “You can learn a whole lot from trees.”
It’s true. Oh, is it true.
(P.S: Due to the busy week prior to Passover, and the start of Passover, I did miss a week of writing! The good news is, I got to spend the time with my family, who are all home for the holiday, and they’re some of the strongest shoulders I’ve got.)
a cashier complimented me, after months of my complaining that New York cashiers walk around as if the world slapped them – which in fact, in a way, it does, through entitled customers. A cashier complimented me, and the sun was shining, and I was surprised as I said thank you, taking my change, but receiving much more.
i sat on the subway with my sister, as we speculated about other passengers, their life stories, their destinations, and I realized they might be looking at us, and for a moment, I was burning with desire to know what they saw. Two girls, on the subway, heading towards an adventure that would last a day, with flowers; and coffee; and too much dinner.
i boarded a bus alone, traveling by myself for the first time in months, among strangers, my head bent as I avoided eye contact, hoping for my own seat, finally winning, and then wondering why someone who loves connection finds isolation so dangerously sweet.
i drove for the first time in a while, preferring the quiet NH streets to the wild ones in NYC, and my windows were down, and my music was loud, and I was all alone, and I was happy.
I laughed with a cashier, back in my hometown, and as I paid her I realized that people in this part of the world didn’t look like they were slapped, and that was pretty cool, and that being alone is great, but connection is all that sweeter.
Twenty-two years ago, a little girl was born in a hospital in a small state, the air frosty, the wind blowing, a blizzard heading their way.
I was whisked home from the hospital the next day, as the first flurries fell of what would become a three-foot springtime storm, coined the April Fools Blizzard, perhaps most fondly remembered by my mother, with a brand new baby and five additional children home from school to welcome her.
This was how I entered the world, and it’s a story I tell proudly, for absolutely no conceivable reason.
That’s how long I’ve been hanging around on this planet, scraping my knees, putting Band-Aids on, exploring my world and hiding under my blanket.
Having been born just a couple of years before Y2K, my life has been pretty centralized around the internet and the emergence of technology. I didn’t get my first iPhone until I was 16, but computers were a big part of my life since my young childhood days, filled with watching my bigger siblings play games and then morphing into the big sibling that got to play the games, but with a much smaller, less attentive audience.
I made my first Gmail account in August of 2006, promptly shooting off an email to my entire family announcing my brand new form of contacting them, and over the next few years, contact them I did.
With tears of laughter streaming down our faces, my sisters and I dug deep into our Gmail archives the other day, reading my diary-like emails sent to everyone and anyone who would listen.
At one point, I chanced upon a recording, something I sent out weekly (I only followed through for approximately two weeks), coined “Etti’s Update.” An early form of today’s popular podcasts, I would record myself discussing current events in my daily life, and sent it out to classmates and family. I listened to it, just the other day, laughing at what an over-sharer I was as a kid, before I realized – oh my gosh, I haven’t changed.
From my earliest days, I have been a sharer, seeking connection, reaching out in whatever form I could find.
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to change how I celebrated my birthday a little bit by doing tiny acts of kindness for others. Paying it forward at a Starbucks, leaving a post-it note with some cash at an MTA machine, or just simply leaving an encouraging note somewhere I knew people would need to see it. It’s so easy to become unhappy on your birthday, looking at the marking of time as a reminder at how little you’ve progressed, or how quickly the years are going by. Changing the perspective has reminded me that a birthday is simply a reminder that I am lucky to be alive in this world for another year, and I have further opportunity to bring joy to others.
As a spiritual person, I do use this day to look inwards, to give extra attention to the important things, to use it as a time to reflect on the year past, and make stronger resolutions and goals for the year ahead.
I’m obviously thrilled to accept the sweet gifts and lovely messages from my friends and family.
Yet, like I previously said on this blog, the key to my happiness is remembering that it doesn’t end with me.
Reaching outward, just like my emails from my childhood show that I have always naturally done, is what brings this day to its completion.
Remembering that we live in this great big world, filled with humans that are more similar to us than different, a world ripe with the opportunity for connection, for smiles, for kind words shared – this is how I like to celebrate being alive.
Remembering that no matter what language we speak, what country we were born in, what food we prefer, we all know what loneliness is, what love is, we all have dreams and aspirations, we all can recognize a smile and an open heart.
So, in honor of my twenty-two years, I’ll be working on giving back towards twenty-two people, in whichever way I can, if that just means listening to someone for another moment, or helping someone with their stroller, or smiling at a stranger, or sending a heartfelt message to a friend.
Twenty-two years ago, I joined the mass of humanity on this earth, and I’ve spent nearly every day since talking and letting my voice be heard.
I don’t intend on quieting down any time soon, but I hope to channel all that sharing and be able to continue using this blog as a way to connect with all those who read.
I think 8-year-old me would be pretty darn proud.