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.


Blogger Diana said...

I think you should retitle this 22 (Kleenex Alert)

2:00 PM  
Blogger Elisheva said...

Really beautiful! Thanks for sharing this. And may you have many more happy birthdays!

4:07 PM  
Blogger harry-er than them all said...

Happy birthday!
although its kind of ironic that a suicide note caused you to be so introspective on a day which offers you special protection

4:27 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Amen, and may you have many more birthdays for which to thank HaShem.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous relarela said...

wow - beautiful! How do I forget these things? Is this not what it's all about? I love it!

6:35 PM  
Blogger Tzafra said...

Yay :)

5:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow u never cease to amaze me

9:17 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Happy 23rd birthday, slightly belated.

Tues., Feb. 14, 2012

2:31 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Congratulations on the publication of your article "Panel Discusses Role of Women in Israeli Society" in the Friday, February 17, 2012 edition of the Jewish Press. (Would that I could figure out where they posted it online.) I'm looking forward to reading more of your writing.

Sun., Feb. 20, 2012

3:38 PM  

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