Wednesday, March 28, 2012


(hey there blog world! what's it been, two years? i wrote this yesterday after some unkind soul pointed out to me that my youngest sister is nearly 12. it was only after i'd written it that i realized that she actually won't be 12 for a year and more, and i myself am no longer 22, so that should tell you everything you need to know about my math skills. but i'm still glad i thought about it.)

I was twelve when you were born,
And I am still in some ways twelve.
Though I am nearly twice your age
For the first and last time.

You were possibility,
A wide-eyed soft-skinned baby dream.
I let you crawl across my sheets
And taught you patty-cake.

When she is my age now,
I thought
I’ll be wiser
I thought
I’ll feel much older
But now
It’s like
You’ve grown into
Yourself, but I’m still me…

When she is my age, then,
I thought
I’ll have my own children,
I thought
She’ll visit my new home
And read
Those books I always
Knew I had in me…

What is twelve when you are young?
An itchy hope spread in your bones.
An endless longing to be free
To see the green earth.

This is my prayer for you:
When you are twenty-two,
You won’t look back or forward, always,
The way that I do.

Let yourself be twelve.
Be curious, be enspelled
Lie dreaming in the grass,
Make summer evenings last—

Play music

Don’t think of what will be
When you’re as old as me.
Inside you everything
Is blooming,
Close your eyes and see.

I was twelve when you were born.
We are all in most ways twelve.
Caught within our grown-up lives,
We dream
Of who we might be.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


at 12:00 am yesterday, i turned 22 years old.

it took me a minute to notice this, because i was reading bill zeller's suicide note.

if you haven't heard of zeller by now, a quick google will tell you all you need to know. i don't have the heart to go into too much detail. the note, which had been sent to me on facebook, was a long, heartbreaking diatribe about the impossibility and torture of life. the impossibility of trust. of closeness. of love. of hope. after childhood abuse, zeller had struggled to lead a normal life but concluded, at last, in this letter, that it was impossible. there is nothing at all in this world to look forward to, he writes, and apologizes for the pain he will cause his mother with this last, final choice.

the strangeness of reading this on my birthday is hard to explain. it was like looking in the dark side of a mirror. i was celebrating life. he was, in some ways, negating life, seeking comfort in death. we were opposites.

or were we? i have a dread of birthdays. they have historically been hard for me, and i try to downplay them or let them pass me quickly, before i have time to think about it. i drag my feet. i don't want to think about getting older, "running out of time" - losing the advantages of youth. i don't like - and i know i shouldn't do this, but of course i do - to compare myself to others my age and think, why am i so behind? i don't like to think of my family, always so far away on this day, or about the responsibility and accountability that are intrinsic to the assumption of adulthood.

and yet as i read this letter i started to think. what are birthdays? such fussy days. we mope about them sometimes or look forward with nervous anticipation, wondering what people will do for us or we will do for them. we hope someone will make us feel special, and try to show our friends how much they mean to us. but ultimately, it's not your friends or family who gives you the present that means most. the biggest birthday present is life: possessing life, and your life, no one else's.

i thought about zeller. i thought about my friend's mother, a tzadeikes who fought cancer for years for the right to do more mitzvot and kindness in the world, and see her children grow up. how she fought for every birthday, all the birthdays i laugh about and pretend i've "forgotten" (i am not convinced anyone really forgets their birthday) because they are so unwanted.

i stood in front of the mirrors in my apartment and thought about myself and my own body, which carries me through the world and wakes up every morning and does all the crazy things i ask it to do. a loaner body. like a really nice zip car that G-d lets me keep.

so i've been doing birthdays wrong, i decided. this day is not about me. it's a day for me to be grateful for the gift of my life, and other gifts that have made that one sweeter. this is the anniversary of my relationship with G-d - Him giving me the chance to make something of myself.

so this is for You, G-d. thank You.

thank You for giving me parents who have modeled since i was little what it means to be a good person and a good Jew. parents who have loved me and supported me through the worst and best things. who believe in me and always make me feel understood.

thank You for giving me 22 years with my grandparents and especially my great-grandfather, who so few people ever get to even meet, and whom i have had the privilege to speak to every week, asking his advice, hearing him laugh. please allow me to have him and all my grandparents for many, many years to come.

thank You for giving me a body that, bli ayin hara, is strong and healthy and allows me to do so much.

thank You for giving me friends who are there for me when i need them, who understand without judging, who bring so much richness and wonder to the experiences and life situations we go through together, who amaze me with kindness and thoughtfulness i wouldn't have imagined possible.

thank You for helping me find a job which is interesting, always puts me in places to learn new things, and has enough flexibility in the hours to allow me to take whatever classes i need and still work enough to pay living expenses.

thank You for helping me get into this writing program which forces me to write and write with as much focus and impact as i possibly can, and gives me the opportunity to study with remarkable writers one-on-one. please help me get the most out of this program, and create pieces with enough meaning and substance to be a comfort or joy to others.

thank You for letting me hear someone say, "you're beautiful," even if it was not meant to be.

thank You for creating this strange community in new york full of young people like me, just starting out and not belonging anywhere in particular, who i can see and laugh with every week in shul and hear about their life adventures. i know i complain about living here and some days you just want to be home, but i can't think of a better place to spend these years evolving and learning about the world.

thank You for helping me find and keep my apartment, where i can host so many people for Shabbos and still fall asleep on the couch at 6 30 on Wednesday if that's what i'm up to.

thank You for Shabbos.

Thank You for taking me to England this may to see a country i've dreamed about since i was 7, and to florida this winter so i could be with my family.

Thank You for creating this big wonderful world full of strange and fascinating people and things and giving me 22 years to wander around in it.

I hope that I get to live in Your world for many more years, learning more about it and You, and using that knowledge to create a beautiful story with my life. and i hope that at the end of everything, when i come back to You, You'll be proud of what i've used this time for, and feel that it was worth the investment.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

wisdom from my littlest brother's chavrusa

"if you're in doubt and feeling hopeless, stop doubting and work on scraping some hope together."

true story.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Give this to Wisconsin: it’s cold and Spartan, but it gives you time to think.

I came home to think. This on my mother’s advice. “New York is just getting to you,” she said. “You need some alone time.”

It is my mother’s contention that I have avoided thinking for a long time by keeping myself very busy, and this is probably true. I like to be busy. I like to feel useful. Even little things, like organizing my closet or finishing an article, grant me a renewed sense of purpose and validation. ‘Look!’ I think to myself. ‘I know how to do things. I can do what needs to be done. What can I do next?’

That was certainly how I intended to deal with the long, drawn-out and extremely painful demise of my last long-term relationship (ugh, I hate that term). We had known for months that it couldn’t work, but were close friends before we dated. It’s never a good time to lose your best friend, you know? So we put it off. “We’ll talk about it later.” “We have time.” We swung back and forth, back and forth. I kept busy, which is a thing I do well.

But eventually it had to end, and all the busy work in the world couldn’t stop little whispers from slipping in through the cracks. When my mother suggested coming home, I thought, “Perfect! Home. I’ll be completely distracted.” And that became another way for me to package everything up and move it to the attic of my head, with big messy labels in marker that read, “Deal With Eventually.”

Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I always forget how quiet it is here. Parents have work, siblings have school, and all the kids I went to school with live in other cities and continents now, with other people. There’s no one on the sidewalks here—everyone drives—and it’s bitingly cold, and there’s white snow everywhere (I say white to distinguish it from New York snow, which is yellow, as you are no doubt aware.) I don’t know if it was the quiet or the stillness (there’s only so much work you can do from home), or both, but I’ve definitely had time to think this week.

And it’s no wonder I put it off. Alone this week, I’ve been forced to confront some truly frightening ideas. I have become a person riddled with self-doubt, uncertainty, and fear. I don’t think there’s any one event that made me that way: looking back over this blog, I see a progression of thoughts and ideas, a period of time that’s led me to this point, now, where I fight myself constantly. And in this week of no distractions I think I’ve figured out what has been making me so miserable. At 22, I have somehow become possessed of the following beliefs:

1) the most important thing you can do in life is get married
2) my incapability of doing this represents me failing at life, or not deserving to succeed
3) as punishment, I’m going to live the rest of my life alone, which will become more and more painful as I get older

This is messed. Up. I know it’s messed up. Or at least, I would know, intellectually, if I stopped to think about it. But it’s amazing how you can go through your days and weeks quietly believing something you haven’t even defined clearly. And it can look ridiculous when you set it down on paper, but still be true.

Well, true without being right. This person I’ve become is not me. I fought not to think about this, but today in particular, on a quiet Shabbos afternoon, walking down the same streets I’ve walked every year through grade school and high school and even in college, I realized that I have been missing the point.

I think ultimately, what everyone struggles to have and to hold onto is meaning. We want to feel like we count, like our lives count. In Judaism, in theory, meaning is built into our lives through religion, through tefilla, through Torah study, and through family. Family, though it has its challenges, is an instant source of meaning: it gives you a framework and a context to live your own life, a way of defining yourself and your role in the community. This is easier when you’re younger. Who am I? I am so-and-so’s daughter, so-and-so’s sister. I am part of that family.

I think that in part, this is a reason why so many Orthodox people date and marry young, and it can be a source of anxiety and fear for those that don’t. Though marriage has other, equally enduring challenges, it affixes your place on the earth. You have your work cut out for you, sort of. You matter to someone, and what you do together will matter in sacred and familiar ways.

It is much harder to ascribe meaning to your life and actions when you are not closely tied to other people. This is not to say that it can’t be done or isn’t done every day by many people with stunning success—only that it’s harder. I started thinking about myself. What do I do that matters? Who am I? A freelance writer for a public relations bureau? An administrative assistant in a university department? Um. Good luck getting your life-achievement points there.

Then I realized that again, I was looking in the wrong places. I am not a job description, anymore than I’m just a daughter, just a sister, and in truth, any more than any of my married friends are just wives or husbands. I have been going about this whole process wrong. I’ve even been going about the self-reliancy and needing-other-people-to-make-you-happy thing wrong.

I found myself sitting on the rusty swing set in my backyard and asking myself this: What was I put in the world to do? What are the things that I can do? What do I want to do? If G-d took me back tomorrow, what would I have wanted to say that I did?

Here are the answers I came up with:

I want to write.

I want to write stories that will be mirrors for people. Things that will reflect their own lives back to them, with all of the complexity, all of the intricacy and detail, the trials and triumphs that are woven into a person’s life. I want people to be able to read things I’ve written and say, “Finally – a feeling I’ve always struggled with, and now I have words for it,” or, “I know so many people like that and have never understood them—and now, through this character, I do,” or really just, “Yes—I understand my life and my world a little more for having read this, and I see that I live in a beautiful, fascinating world.”

I want the stories I write to be love poems to G-d. I want to notice all the little things, the painstaking details that no one notices, that together compose the textured universe we all move around and live our lives in. I want to write stories that will serve as a mirror up to my Creator, too. I want them to say, “Look, G-d! I’m not going to live my entire life like one of your ants, scuttling around from sandhill to sandhill and never looking up. I see You everywhere, in every thing You’ve formed, and all Your creations are lovely. And I am grateful to be alive and to have lived in Your world, for a minute or an hour or however long You see fit for me to be here.”

That is my personal mission. It won’t be easy, but even I, with all my doubt and all my insecurities, believe that it is within me to achieve.

And as for those other things, about not being good at things and dying alone—I am sure they will continue to trouble me, because of my age and where I am in life. It’s just part of the game right now. But if at the end of every day, I can look back at those two paragraphs and say, “Am I doing this? Am I using my talents to create meaning and sacredness for other people? Am I honing my awareness of my Creator? Am I establishing a genuine relationship with Him? Am I remembering my purpose in life?”

I think that if I can do that, then I, too, will have my work cut out for me. I will have a place where I belong. And I will be, once again, too busy to think.

Or at least, too busy to think about things no one can control.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

sandcastle manifesto revisited

so six months later, it turns out that making yourself happy is really, REALLY hard. i wanted so much to believe that relying only on myself was an achievable goal. but i feel like i've been losing this fight for a really long time now. tips, anyone? how can you be happy by yourself?

Monday, August 30, 2010

the adventures of fudge in sarah lawrence land

magical realism, according to wikipedia (that venerated source of all knowledge), is defined as "an aesthetic style or genre in literature in which magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality." should that fail to float your boat, it also offers matthew strecher's broader take: "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something 'too strange to believe'."

well, these definitions are very nice. here's mine: "what happens when fudge goes to sarah lawrence."

up is down in so many ways there, it's hard for me to pick where to start. maybe i should begin by noting that this is not a bad, right-is-wrong kind of's a through-the-looking-glass kind of thing. i really do feel like alice in wonderland. we started orientation this week, so i've been up there all day, every day, and it's like entering another world: a remote, secluded place, with green lawns that roll on forever, winding hilly roads that never seem to go anywhere, patches of woods (woods!) with animals (animals!) poking around through leaves, and pretty much every other thing i do not associate with new york. in my entire collegiate career, never ever have i accidentally walked to another county on my quest for a particular lecture room. in midtown manhattan, if you get really lost, you might end up on the other side of the block.

i think one of the helpful Older Grad Students put it best. "welcome to the shire!" he would shout, cheerfully, to each new student. that is how it feels. it also reminds me vaguely of a sort of ritzy summer camp me and my brothers used to go to in wisconsin. located in one of the posher suburbs, the school was for smart children whose parents would much rather have them learn human genetics over the summer break than skip rope. to get to it, our bus would meander over dirt roads and little streams, past enormous gated estates with driveway circles you could fit my whole house in and flower arrangements i bet needed full time staff. i remember as a kid how i used to press my face to the window as we drove past and imagine what kinds of people lived in those houses. dukes? (yeah, that's all i could come up with).

you get a similar sensation as you amble around slc, which you do a lot of, because they have 500 buildings spread generously across acres of campus, and each person you need to speak to is located in a different house (many of them are houses). as i wondered in amazement how undergrads pulled off these kind of between-class switches, i passed several beautiful, enchanted-looking mansions. more like palaces. i stopped and stared at one. it was very quiet at that part of the road: no cars, no people. just some birds and a little bit of a breeze, and elaborate hedgework.

i have heard some of the other grad students talk about where they live. some live in brownstones close to the campus. some live in new jersey. some live in greenwich village (how? isn't that the most expensive place on earth?) some even live on the upper west side.

but as far as i can tell, none of them go back to what i go back to at the end of the day. i take my train back to the bronx, where i switch to another bus that lets me off at the gwb, and trek home over sidewalks crammed full of everything from empty soda cans and used napkins to dog poop and puke. without noticing it, i've cultivated the habit of watching my feet while i walk, because if you don't look where you're steppin' you got only yourself to blame for what you step into. i make it home to my building, which is nice - i like my building - and to my apartment - like that too- but is the size, all in all, of one slc parking space. as i said, these are not bad things. but they are DIFFERENT things. it is disconcerting to travel between worlds, and to understand for the first time that not everyone really knows the world you live in exists. i have been so used to hanging out here in the heights with my friends, none of whom bat an eyelash at the neighborhood we ended up in; it is normal here, even for those of us who come from more rural areas.

and that's another thing that's a little surreal about slc: for the first time in my student life, my peer group is completely foreign to me. i never felt a sense of homogeny at stern - so many different viewpoints, minhagim, ambitions - but there was a sense of underlying unity. at the end of the day, we understood the basics about each other, almost by definition. i imagine most of the time we didn't even think about it. to each other, we were normal.

not so when you're the only orthodox jew in your program, and probably one of a handful on an entire campus. i know there are other jews - i hear jewish names in passing, and have even met a few- but i have seen no one else trudging up and down all these hills in ninety degree humidity wearing a crewneck shirt and a skirt. part of all these orientation activities are familiar to me, because this is my second year working at a college, and i have a feel for the thoughts and intentions that go into them. but part of me feels like i float around campus in an impermeable glass bubble, my soggy tuna sandwich in tow. the writing program features many formal/informal events, like poetry readings or magazine scout-outs, which are held in bars and have food ordered in. i feel stricken. (i can admit that here, right?) i am not the hipster with black rim glasses* and a pack of smokes in her back pocket and blue hair, and on a day full of other registration activities, i munch on packets of animal crackers instead of the spreads they've set out everywhere. this was par for the course in wisconsin, but i haven't done it in awhile, and i'm out of practice. it's funny how rusty you get. i am used to going to college, i am used to there being food everywhere, i am used to it being kosher. it's not even a question. am i fleishig or milthig: that's a question. but at slc, i am not the audience; not mainstream. i am so unthought of that final registrations (and alternate registrations) are due only on saturday; the deans' office is amenable to my request for another plan, but it's up to me to figure one out.

and it makes me think of how funny we all are, all us stern and yu students and alums, so involved in the scandals and trials of our own circles that we never notice how small we are to the rest of the world. our galaxies are like pinholes to them. the shidduch crisis? are you kidding?

i kind of like being reminded of this, for two reasons. first, after a year or two of working for yu, and four years of attending, it's easy to get sucked into the politics and minutia and the money and think depressing things. but when i contemplate going to a place like sarah lawrence for undergrad - and it would have been one of my dream schools, in twelfth grade- the need for a place like stern becomes unquestionable to me. there is simply no other place i can think of that has the ability to replicate a real college experience for orthodox students: no other place where it will be totally a hundred percent normal for you to keep kosher, where any guy who flirts with you is fair game**, where the coolest class in your department will never conflict with rosh hoshana and sukkot. i understand that this is less of an issue if you're living at home and commuting to cuny or even uwm. i get that. but for the rest of the world, for people like me, i couldn't have had those four years anywhere else. i probably would have loved attending a place like slc as an undergrad - but at such a young and critical stage of life, when self-identity is so malleable, i'm not sure who i would have become, and perhaps even more importantly, who i would have become it with.

the second reason runs the opposite extreme. i almost like being tractor-beamed out of the jewish washington heights scene and into sarah lawrence for its weirdly cooling effect. it really is sort of like being zapped to the moon and glancing back at the earth. things that seem all-consuming here - who are you dating? who are you having for shabbos? - feel distant and squinty over there. dating? maybe i just haven't picked this up yet, but i sense zero stress about dating from the other students in my program. it's just not something they're worried about. you do, you don't, it's a casual thing, without the significance and structure dating has in the orthodox world. with all the goods and bads that come with that mindset.

i realize from the last couple posts i've written one could be forgiven for thinking dating is all we think about up in da heights (or at least, all i think about, anyway). it's unfair of me to represent it that way, and i don't want to minimalize the things i love about here. hand in hand with the immediacy and stress of everyone knowing each other is that it feels like a family. you are forever running into people who make you smile, forever surrounded by fun people doing fun things, people you admire and can learn from, friends who are there for you after a bad day at work and will snort their way through "love story" with you even in the best of times. it's possible to feel like you actually belong here in a way that is sometimes difficult to achieve even in the places we grew up (which are different now, and haven't really been home in years). that's the great, colorful, warm part of the heights. at the end of the day, we are all, as my friend likes to say, "one big dysfunctional 'friends' episode."

and that's the part i'm not sure about, at slc. these students are mindblowing: they are insightful, cultured, incredibly stylish (ahh! somebody style me!). many of them have been doing things for years on a professional level that make my jaw drop. many of them are also kind, friendly, curious - everything that you need to start great friendships.

but will i be friends with these peers of mine? will i ever fit, with my packed lunches and long sleeves and brochas that i make silently which have people frowning at me with troubled looks on their faces? will i fit with them, glamorous and american in ways i've never truly identified as? do i need to, to learn from them or to succeed? and if i don't or i can't or choose not to - how will that evolve? how will i manage it?

i won't lie: a lot of that is probably just as much from awe as anything else. these people are accomplished and really, really smart. i feel a little bit like an impostor. thrilled that i have the opportunity to get better? you betcha. drooling over the course catalog? ditto. but man, i rarely sound as articulate as they do before their first coffee. and by rarely i mean 'with a scripted speech.'

so that's some of the cognitive dissonance i've been grappling with: itty bitty orthodox girl in a biiiiig world, cramped queen o' the stackable shelves vs The Only Thing We Have More Of Than Buildings is Lawns, i try to write when i can vs I Write Six Hours Every Day in a Log Cabin Overlooking a Stream While Eating Scones. either way, i am still very, very excited to see what comes next. maybe they'll let me live in the course catalog for a little flat word form...

*so i have black-rimmed glasses, but they don't work on me. explain.

**right? right?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sandcastle Manifesto

We all have our frustrations, especially in dating. Here is mine: I have the haunting sensation that I’m building sandcastles on the beach. I build and sculpt and craft, and in the back of my mind even as I build I mourn my work. My hands mold the sand, with care, thought, and when I permit myself, with affection; but I know with unrelieved certainty that it will all be washed away by the tide. I build now, but it will be as if my hands never touched the sand. I build, but I will shape only mud.

They say this about the Jews in Egypt, that one of the most debilitating tasks the Pharoah assigned to break them was to force Jews to build on quicksand (was it quicksand?). As soon as you laid down one round of bricks, they were swallowed into the earth. Effort wasted, in vain, without purpose: this is what broke the Jews. And there are moments when the futility of it stumps me, too. I get a funny taste at the back of my mouth. It is difficult to look at the flat, wet sand and dip your hands in again.

When a recent breakup loomed, inescapable, on my horizon, I found myself struggling with a feeling that is mostly foreign to me: anger. I was very angry. It was a formless anger, too, because I had no idea who I was angry at, or what about. I had not been hurt or wronged. It wasn't going to work out. Sometimes things don’t. There had been and would be nothing especially awful about it. Yet talking with my mother on webcam, agonizing about whether it was really necessary, whether there was anything I could do differently, listening as she repeated to me what I already knew, at some point I gave up and cried. Was it embarrassing? Sure. But listen, if you can’t cry in front of your mother…right?

My mother is tough. She’s tougher than me, for sure. And so I count on her to be tough for me sometimes. She is my drill sergeant: she makes me run when I’m too tired to walk, forces me to do the things I don’t want to do so I can learn that they are not too hard, not undoable, and next time, I won’t be afraid of them. She has no time for nonsense and even less for self-pity. And she has no doubts.
So I froze when, on the web cam, watching me cry, my mother suddenly stopped trying to reason with me and began to sob herself.

“What do you want me to tell you?” she said. “What do you want me to say? How am I supposed to know what will happen? I can promise you that everything will be okay, but I would be lying. I don’t know how things will turn out. What do you want me to do for you?”

I sat there, looking at her, too surprised to say anything. There are so many things that happen behind the scenes in your life. Your bosses, your friends, but I think especially your parents. You forget that there are things they don’t show you. It never occurred to me that it hurt my mother, tough as nails and always right, to see me unhappy, just as it never occurred to me that there were problems she could not fix, questions she did not have answers to.

I had always brought my problems to her. Each time I would end with: “So what do you think I should do?” And she would tell me. Sometimes she would say, “Figure it out,” but in my head I knew that just meant, “Figure it out for yourself—you’re 16/18/21!” not “Figure it out because I don’t know.” She always had the right card hidden up her sleeve, and she would produce it with a flourish once I’d deduced it for myself.

But this time she had no trump.

It dovetailed with something a friend of mine likes to say. “You can’t depend on other people to make you happy,” she says. “If you can’t make yourself happy, no one can do it for you.” Usually when she talks about this, she is talking about the danger—scarily everywhere and invisible in the Orthodox community—of perceiving marriage as a solution. “Nothing you’re miserable about now gets made better by complicating it with another person,” she says. “If you have issues before you get married, you will have issues after you get married.” Usually I agree with her about this. It makes sense to me that if you wait for a guy to solve your struggles for you, you will be waiting a long time. But I had never really listened to what she was saying before. You can’t depend on other people to make you happy—not guys, not friends, not even your mother.

It’s not that you can’t trust them, or that they wouldn’t do everything in their power to see you happy, or that they don’t help. Of course they care. Of course they help. But to make you, at the core of your being, a happy person? A fulfilled person? A person whose life has meaning?

Who builds meaningfully.

That’s the work of a lifetime. How could any other person do that for you?

“Your sister,” my mother said, “is upset that we didn’t buy her the toy she wanted in the store today. If I buy you that, will you be happy?”

I sat there, tissues knotted in my hand, and looked at her. I was not crying anymore. It suddenly seemed silly to me that I had cried. I felt bad that I had made my mother cry—-I had asked her to do something impossible, repeatedly, and it wasn’t fair. I was an adult, with an adult’s problems, now. It was not my mother’s job, not my mother’s role, to make me happy anymore, just as it was not my best friends’ and would not be my husband’s. This time, I realized, it was up to me. Up to me to wash my hands in the water, clear the debris and keep building-—not for nothing, not in vain, but because I choose to believe one day, something will stand. Because I want it to. Because I will work at it.

Because nothing is easy, and you have to work to make a life that is worth living. And if you accept that there is no alternative—as I do—then there is nothing else to be done, and no point in complaining about it.

Looking at my mother, thinking this, it dawned on me that I didn’t need her to know what to do. I knew what to do. It was hard, and some of it would be painful, but it was the only way. And I felt a weird sense of relief and responsibility, taking this burden off my mother’s shoulders and putting it back on my own, where it belonged. For the first time, I understand that I must try to face my fears and my frustrations entirely alone-—but by doing this, I am also empowering myself to find their answers.

I charge myself with the mission of my own happiness. I will remember and pursue the things I came here to do. I will cultivate the beauty I find, between people and in the complex and intricate world around me, and remember my connection to my Creator. These things will stay. I will not let bitterness and defeat define me.

I will not be a slave without G-d in Egypt.