I am special, unique. I am me. I will rock the world with my talent. You’ve never seen anyone like me, baby. I will follow my dreams, reach for the stars, climb the ladder of success rung by rung by fucking rung. I have to search. I want to run. I want to find a cave and crawl in and find a tribe sitting there, waiting. I am someone worthy of finding. I will make great things for myself. I will be grateful to those who came before me and paved the way. I will feel shame and horror about the state of the world. I will pull up my bootstraps and absorb all the information and make something useful out of myself. I will contribute to society. I will make the best of it. I will deaden slowly and feel hollower over the years but still be able to chatter lively as I pour a drink. I will fall asleep with with my hands on a full heart and trust in the inherent goodness of all things. I am special, I am unique. I take myself out to dinner and tip generously. I tip back my hot sake in splendor as my carefully placed ringlet sweeps gracefully across my cheek. I will be attractive, I will make conversation, I will share what’s going on with me. The people are hungry for each other. I wish I hadn’t learned the word “God.”
As conversations with my Israeli lover inevitably root deeper into the fecund soil that is religion and culture, I find myself tripping over cultural trappings of my own Christian upbringing, reckoning with that now near-calcified belief system that nevertheless shaped my childhood. The more we explore the waters of tradition and culture, religion and belief, I find myself growing fervently curious about why Jewish households often seem to invite lively discussion, encourage dynamic debate, and engage and question their own belief systems and the status quo. I had never before given a thought to the unspoken agreement to remain quiet at our family's dinner table when it came to political or religious topics, but after just one family meal at the Rosenthal's it dawned on me how banal and bland Christian American dinner tables tend to be (the suburban version, at least). We shy away from controversy and cringe when Uncle Bill brings up that annoying Syrian occupation again. Can't we just talk about the food? Is the silent resounding sentiment from others in the room. No one ever seems eager to delve into the murky waters of potential disagreement, or heaven- forbid, a debate...
Well. I’ll share what I’ve learned so far, a small thing that sends me reeling in its simplicity and obviousness: The very backbone of Judaism is the value of the various interpretations of the Old Testament (Torah). Hebrew, by its nature of being a root language, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Jews take it as their moral and sacred duty to question and engage with the text on an individual level. This forms a culture based on questioning, intellectualism, and places value on a curious mind. This is very much in contrast to Christianity, which stresses blind faith, dogma, the Pope/Vatican as authority on spiritual matters, and purposefully ignores the history of how the Bible came to be. As Catholic school students, we never discuss the fact that the Bible was originally written in Aramaic and Hebrew, or the social context in which it was written at the time, or the fact that Hebrew as a root language is open to interpretation, never mind our own authority to engage in that interpretation ourselves. We are literally encouraged to be sheep. Our minds wither and our intellect dissolves as our fear rises with our awareness of our own ignorance.
Well, developing awareness… It’s a start.
On this, my last night as a 30 year old, I am overcome with gratitude for the magic that has transpired this past year to bring me into this moment. Don’t get me wrong— I don’t have answers to decades-old questions that have reliably kept up their monotonous, steady, slow burn… I am no closer to feeling like I belong to any one place on this earth… I am not creating manically, fervently, passionately, every minute of every day. But I have received. So many gifts I am almost embarrassed to admit to them all. What is so striking is that it has been so much the result of allowing for twinges of uncertainty, and confusion, and ambivalence, to lead the way, to lead me away from those causes, freeing up space for other things to enter. Like teachers. Like travel. Like reclining into and relishing time spent alone, and not feel lonely. Like love. Like patience, and a newfound gentleness, and a desire to address things have for too long have sat and soured in the pit of my belly, in the back of my mind. Like courage: finding it and utilizing it, sharing it and testing it. Like gratitude, above all, more than anything, learning this powerful practice of waking up in thanksgiving: thanking by name the soft pillows beneath and the roof over my head, the birds’ song just for me, my ancestors standing beside me, each friend and family member; sending up gratitude for my car, my feet, the shower I have access to, my beating heart, my expanding lungs. The micro and the macro, anything that comes to mind, anything that keeps me in a state of being thankful, humbled by the network of loving beings that has kept me alive and reasonably sane for all these 30 years. Here I step up and out into the 31st year of my life— the only one of its kind. The oldest and the youngest I will ever be in this moment. Perpetually, unconsciously, receiving and recycling oxygen, lavishly basking in my senses, staying curious, and knowing I am, now and forever, free.
This cursory and frightening and abundant sliver of life we occupy so ravenously, so rudely, so reticently, eludes us in its simplicity. Love and be loved. Be here now. Breathe in; breathe out. So simple. Too simple. So we suffer. And we suffer.
But the era of silence is ending, our consciousness collectively rising. Spiritual curiosities gathering dust on the not-quite-forgotten shelves of our childhoods have begun to shake and shiver, releasing hazy plumes of particulate into the void where our innocence used to dance. The resident insatiable longing in the deep gut, for so long frittering and fraying at the oppressive lining of reason and righteousness, tantalized by the slight sting of the sweet acidic burn of truth on her tongue, is almost through. Irritated, distracted, absentmindedly brushing forgotten promises and empty epithets from our shoulders, we begin to remember. Our anger fueling our power. Our personal pursuit of liberty. Of presence.
Healing is imminent; we know it beyond knowing because now we must either heal or die. Because we do die, we are dying; we watch ourselves die with mournful eyes and watch each other die with pity furrowing our foreheads and we walk a plank built for us by a patriarchy, a murderous system of subjugation, a fascist history of errors dramatized by the latest Hollywood sweethearts playing on repeat with a grim plot twist always hiding in the next wing.
A reckoning is in order.
Yes, march; yes, vote; yes, protest, scream, rage, fling pies into the faces of bigots, and bare your breasts to the sweetness of the sunlight. Yes, wake early to write, to bathe your delicious body in the luxurious silent hours of the dawn, to pleasure yourself; yes, burn your money and yes, pour your blood into the thirsty soil of your houseplants. Yes, starve yourself, take a knee, and light yourself on fire in an attempt to make the world care about injustice. Yes, run away, yes, stand your ground, yes, cry, and cry, and cry; yes, create with abandon, use your shit as fertilizer, raise your goats for their milk and their mischievousness and their meat; yes, follow that slight gut feeling to turn left, to turn right, to back away, to flee, to carry your key as a weapon in your clenched fist. Yes, smile at the cashier; yes, dig a hole in the earth and sleep in it; yes, drink the nectar of the sacred cactus; yes, lick the moon and YES, say NO. Yes, bite your lover’s skin as you tell him you love him, and kiss yourself in the mirror; yes, mow the lawn with a scissor and yes, pluck your hairs out one by one as the Jains do. Yes, storm the White House, yes, demand the truth, yes, provide the truth; yes, throw away your television, yes, open your throat to the sky and beat on your chest as you howl to this bizarre mystery in which we swim and yes, for fuck’s sake, fall in love with yourself.
It’s time for our fragility to be beckoned into the spotlight.
Come, my darling. I’m here for you.