Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Questions from the Uninitiated

What's school like, you ask...?

Well, there's a lot of students. A whole lot. A whoooole lot -especially when you pause to consider that my undergraduate experience was basically revved-up seminary. And there are a lot of guys. A whooooole lot. As many guys as girls...and lots and lots of non-Jews -which doesn't bother me, or even incur my notice. After all, you can't really tell the Jews are Jews anyway. And they ask the same questions -the Jews and the non-Jews, I mean. Take, for instance, today. I sat down next to a Jewish, non-religious girl who often says things that make my ears turn red and a nice, aidel, non-Jewish Asian guy -both of them were in my class last year, and it's always good to sit with someone whose name you know. So I sat, said hi, and started unwrapping my lunch. Hm. It was a sandwich, and I had just gotten I really need to get up, slightly embarrass myself, and wash...yes, of course, I can't believe I even hesitated. So I got up, mentioned I need to was for my bread, and did so, holding off on the netilas yedayim bracha in case someone spoke to me before I could get a bit in me, and returned to my seat. I said the brachos, tore off a hunk of bread and gulped it down, knowing the moment I lifted my eyes to my friends (acquaintances, really) they'd ask...something.

So as I slowly raised my eyelids to meet their questioning glances, I sifted through a few responses in my mind, swiftly settling on the most simple one. "Do you have to wash your hands before all food?" and "What kind of blessing do you say?" and "What's the Hebrew?" and "What would you do if you didn't have all these rules?" came in quick succession. The first three I easily dispatched of, though the why of washing made me shamefully scratch my head for a moment, as the basic knowledge of the "why"s is a bit dusty hidden in the back of my mind. But the last question confused me -"What do you mean, I asked -I would just eat the bread without washing if I didn't have to...?" "No, I mean..." And then the other turned to me and asked, "If an MIT genius professor came to you and told you that you were brainwashed, and none of it's true..." That was easy, since there are many MIT professors and Harvard-educated believers, and my belief is a rational one. And then they asked if I would doubt if something happened, to which I replied with a bit of background in my life -a life not perfect, a life not all fun and games, a life that's known sadness, pain and despair, but still strives onward and believes. We then discussed belief in G-d, as opposed to belief in Judaism, and we would have continued, but I had Family Law in five minutes and had to run. But first I had to bentch. At this point, I excused myself, and laughed, and said I had to say the "after-blessing" -but their attention was no longer on me, but instead diverted by another friend who had just sat down.

It's better that way -I hate when people watch me bentch. I always feel like I should slow down, enunciate my words, and then I feel guilty for caring more about what they think than Hashem. And then I feel even guiltier, since by that time, I finished bentching without actually realizing it, all the while deceiving my observers. Life sure is complicated....

Or maybe we just make it so. But either way, it was so satisfying me to be in the educator role again. I hope they ask more questions. Usually in school, my ways are marveled at (don't get them started about being shomer negiya!) or laughed at (my "summer" clothes), but generally not questioned -and I like the questions. They make me think, try to give good answers, and sometimes knock some dust off the deeply hidden fundamentals I keep in the back of my mind, but really need at the forefront. (And the less dusty these things are now that we're in Elul, the better...)

Kesivah v'chasima tova!!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Summer Lovin' Had Me a Blast/Summer Lovin' Happened So Fast

So it's been two full months since my last post...and all I have to say is, well, I've been busy. This past summer, though at times difficult and stressful and crazy and strange, has been one of my best summers in a while. I used to dread summers a bit. I've experienced a few very significant, very terrible occurrences in the hot months of July and August. The Three Weeks, the Nine Days, two fast days, the general aimlessness, the unwavering heat, the violent thunderstorms...(ugh, the thunderstorms -a childhood fear never quite rid of)and the overall listlessness and stickiness, do not my favorite season make. And while I am looking forward to school beginning again (my second year of law school, oh yeah, baby!), I am not thrilled to see this summer fade away.

This has been a summer of great experiences, a very fulfilling and super fun internship (which I describe in the former way in interviews, the latter way to friends), and a whole lotta quality time with my family. So much time with many members of my family -which doesn't usually occur. My family is a large, unwieldy unit, spread across great distances and prevented from coalescing into one big mass by life's realities. Like the constraints of work, school, know, good reasons all, but we really only hang all together at simchas, which is great, but how often does a big deal simcha occur? A few times a year, maybe, and that's counting smaller affairs we all try to get to because we all try to get to.

The "next simcha", as my siblings and mother so sweetly inform me, will be, im yirtzah Hashem, mine. I love discussing with my brothers, sisters and in-laws a figurative timeline of my future. Discussions like, oh, Okee, you can be married by the time you have Winter break, and then we commence the argument about whether this is so. Well, first I have to meet a guy. So let's say I go on my first date with my future husband (tee hee!) next week. This week I'm just too busy. We'll require -at minimum -three-and-a-half months to date, and then three months to be engaged before the wedding takes place, at the earliest, midway through February. Hmmm. That comes more than a month too late...oh well, I guess marriage by winter break won't work out. And so the discussion ends with an optimistic, "you can totally be married by Pesach!"

Lest you think my siblings are being pushy, annoying, insensitive, or gosh-darn-it putting pressure on me, let me remind you that my sense of humor is often miraculous. Yes, I can find the concept of putting a deadline on my marriage to a person I haven't met yet utterly ridiculous in the best possible way. And it isn't even one of those cases where if you don't laugh, you cry, so you laugh. Nope. This is just laugh laugh. For although I do want to get married, it's not for the sake of getting married. I want to also be married, and that's only if it's the right guy for me. So, for now, I'm content to be patient. I'm young, having fun (in a good girl way, this is no single in the city kind of blog!), and wonderfully, challengingly, satisfyingly busy -in the summer and hopefully also in the fall, when school will provide me the lion's share of the busy-ness.

Of course, if I do meet "him" next week, I certainly, most definitely, will fit him into my busy life. After all, I could be married by Pesach.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Strange Creature, Part III

(Read This Part Third!! See First & Second Parts Below)

Helmsley's aim was true, but his faithful sword failed to pierce the monster's flesh. The blade merely glanced off the creature's chest, denting the tough, leathery skin of its tunic -as if its heart were made of stone. Helmsley was stunned; he had never seen the like of this before, and it shocked him greater than the monster's gruesome appearance and ever-changing features. He took two steps back, gasping, "What sorcery is this?"

The monster laughed and lunged toward Helmsley, its arms outstretched as if to tear Helmsley's head from his shoulders. Helmsley quickly duck and spun out of the thing's path, slicing his left leg in a circle to knock the creatures legs out from underneath him. The maneuver succeeded and Helmsley found himself staring down at the creature on the ground. He raised his sword to make the killing blow, but two thoughts fought for prominence in his mind. The first was that his sword had failed before; what will make it prevail this time? The second was that the creature had not move since it fell. It lay, quite silently, on its belly, face-down in the dirt. Acting on impulse, Helmsley kicked the creature over onto its back, holding his sword and shield at the ready. The monster was not dead -its eyes were open, staring into Helmsley's eyes. But it did not move. Helmsley grew angry -was the monster toying with him? Would it pretend to be injured and then fly up and destroy him? What game was it playing? The last question Helmsley said aloud.

"No game, I'm afraid, Sir Helmsley. This is, in fact, a matter of life or death. Many already have died from this 'game' as you just called it. Many of your men...hunters, soldiers..." Incredibly, the monster's features began to settle, forming a face grotesque but yet disturbing in its likeness to humanity. Even more incredibly, Helmsley spied tears glistening in the creatures opaque eyes and on its hollowed out cheeks.

"I don't understand. Explain yourself!" Helmsley cried out.

"Explain...explain...yes. I can do that. Though I do not have much time left now," the creature wheezed. "I did not kill your men. And they are not all dead. Most -well, not most, but at least half -of your people have indeed lived."

"Liar!" Helmsley roared, "You lie -they have never returned from battle with you and your brethren! Where are they, then, if in fact more than half of them still live?"

"I do not know. It is unfair to ask me. Ask yourself where a human like yourself might go once they have battled against -and prevailed against -themselves. Ask yourself where a human might run to, where a human might hide, once he has discovered what lies within him. What darkness lies within him." The creature gazed into Helmsley's eyes, openly shedding tears now, but making no effort to wipe them from its deformed face. "Ask yourself, and maybe there you will find your men -the ones that survived. The others, I'm afraid, very very afraid, have been consumed by their darker selves. Like you might have been, had not your bravery in facing facing yourself...saved you in the end. This is the end, you know." The monster's tears finally stopped falling, and it took a deep breath. It gazed at Helmsley expectantly, waiting for a flurry of questions.

Alas, it was disappointed. Helmsley was so confused, so surprised, so flummoxed, that he had no questions at all. Questions are indicative of knowledge -for without knowledge, one can ask no questions. That was the state of Helmsley's mind at this point -empty of all save confusion, ignorance, and perhaps to be fair, self awareness of his ignorance. Finally, after long moments of quiet in the dusky wood, Helmsley opened his mouth: "You are my darker side?"

The creature laughed, its spit and breath smelling none the sweeter for all the revelations. "Yes, yes...I thought that part was clear. Listen Helmsley...all your life, you have been a good, decent man...but you have always been afraid. That fear, whether it was a fear of failure, fear of being disliked, fear of success -it restricted you. It kept you from doing good things along with the bad things it saved you from. Your fear was always never addressed it, never worked on it. So finally, you had to fight it. The fact that you did, that you came here to fight, that you didn't sink to your knees and beg for mercy when even your faithful sword failed you -that means you won. You beat me...and so I will not harm you. I will not consume you. At least for now."

"What do you mean, 'for now'?" Helmsley warily asked.

"Oh," the creature smiled. "I'll be back -my features are ever shifting, and you might not recognize the form I next take...but I'll always be a part of you, and there will always be battles to fight."

Helmsley now knew yet more fear, but not for himself. He asked, "But what about my people? How can I protect them, protect them from the others like you? I guess what I am asking is: How can I protect them from themselves?"

The creature slowly rose to its feet and wearily shook its head. "You can't, Sir Helmsley. You cannot prevent the battles from happening. But you can teach them how to win, how not to be afraid, and how to face themselves. You can teach them how it can be done. But now I must have defeated me, and I will let you celebrate...or run away, depending on your inclination."

Sir Helmsley tried to absorb all of this while watching the creature begin to fade away from sight. A moment before it had totally disappeared, though, Helmsley heard one last remark from his darker self.

"You do not need to run away. No matter how terrifying you find your darker self, you can never truly run from it. It -I -am always with you. But, perhaps, you can take some sort of twisted comfort in that."

The creature was gone. Helmsley knew that it was not gone forever, though, but he did not choose to run away. Instead, he chose to go home. To return to his people, and take the advice of his darker, twisted self and teach his people. He turned away from the clearing in the wood and began to walk back to town, his boots crunching the dried twigs and leaves that blanketed the forest floor. Soon he emerged from the wood, his face shining in the full light of the glorious noonday sun. He had won his first battle, and he had many more to win. The sun shone for Helmsley forever.

This is the end, you know.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Strange Creature, Part II

(Read This Part Second!! See First Part Below)

Sir Helmsley stepped into the forest, his leather boots crunching the dried leaves and twigs beneath his shodden feet. He held his unsheathed sword in his right hand, which pounded with the blood coursing through his veins, pumped by a racing heart. The overhanging branches shaded the wood from the glare of the early sun, forming a green canopy over his head. The darkness comforted like a blanket of protection while chilling the air with gloom.

Helmsley followed the tracks of his soldiers --though he was no hunter, the footprints were stamped clearly enough for even him to read. The tracks led north, deep into the heart of the forest, and he followed it faithfully, his steps neither hasty or unsure. He walked steadily on to whatever lay ahead.

More than an hour after Helmsley first entered the wood, the tracks he had been so diligently following disappeared. They vanished from sight in the center of a large clearing almost eerily perfect in its circular symmetry. A perfect ring of trees encircled the clearing, their slim white trunks climbing into the unseen sky. Rays of sunlight shone through the trees, illuminating the bare earth and grim solitude. Helmsley knew that this was where he would meet the monster, and here it was that one of them would be defeated. He sincerely hoped it would not be he.

After a few very slow moving minutes of quiet, Helmsley hear a rustling of leaves and the breaking of twigs --sounds indicating the presence of another.

Behind the westernmost tree of the ring, a dark and shapeless shadow emerged. At first, Helmsley believed it to be just a trick of the dappled light in the grove, but he soon saw the shadow lengthen and strengthen until it was clearly formed of flesh, bone, and who knew what else. The monster had some semblance of humanity, but twisted and deformed. Its face -if it can be called such -seemed to transform and shift at every moment. A great odor emanated from the creature. Helmsley shrank back, frightened and disgusted by its ever-changing features and rank stench. The gentleman breathed deeply to still his roiling stomach and stood his ground. He then raised his sword and prepared for battle, whispering a prayer that he will not fail his people.

Then, out of the gloom of the surrounding trees, more shadows emerged and became form and flesh. Then still more appeared, followed by dozens more. In a matter of minutes, Helmsley was surrounded on all sides by hundreds of freakish monsters. At the terrifying sight before him, Helmsley wanted nothing more than to drop his sword, sink to his knees and weep. But Helmsley found a long-lost inner wellspring of strength and gripped his sword and stared at the unsightly and extremely smelly beasts around him. He slowly turned in a circle, wondering which monster would lead the charge.

To his great and everlasting surprise, none did. The creatures gave a collective sniff in his direction and melted back into the shadows of the forest. All except one. One lone beast stood in the clearing, gazing at Sir Helmsley with ever-shifting eyes. Its changing features were all that moved in the silent clearing. Helmsley dared not to even blink an eye, much less move a muscle. Tension stretched like a string on a violin, twanging discordantly in the stillness. Finally, the string snapped --the monster spoke.

"Helmsley," it began in guttural, wet tones, "I was not sure you would come. That your fear would not imprison you in your lovely home." The creature smiled, revealing black rotting teeth and such malevolent breath, Helmsley thought he could practically see it poison the air. Helmsley took umbrage and the mockery he saw in the monster's twisted smile, pointed his sword at the creature and said, "You and your minions have disturbed my people for far too long. You have secreted away or murdered too many of my men. It is your turn to be terrorized and your turn to be destroyed."

"Pretty speech," the monster sneered. "But not enough to instill bravery where there never has been nor strength where there never will be. Prove to me you have such bravery and such strength, and maybe your pretty speeches will serves as a prophecy."

With that, Helmsley lunged for the monster, aiming for its wicked heart. However, Helmsley wasn't quite so sure the creature had a heart, and even if it did, where exactly it would be located on its grotesque person.

To be continued and concluded in Part III.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Strange Creature, Part I

Once upon a time, a strange creature with no place to live was forced to wander from place to place. Many of the townspeople who had seen the creature lurking at the edges of the forest declared that it was the most repulsive thing on G-d's green earth. Many of the townspeople took to locking their door twice at night to ensure the monster stays away. Many of the townspeople began to lobby for Sir Helmsley, the local landlord, to once and for all eradicate the creature from their midst. Soon, all Sir Helmsley heard about was the wretched creature. He knew he must do something; the situation was becoming desperate.

At first, Sir Helmsley sent his best hunters to track and trap the ever-moving thing, but that met with failure. The hunters returned to Helmsley's manor, tails between their legs, metaphorically speaking, with their dogs at their sides, with actual tails between their legs. They hunted, they sought, they waited, they set traps, but to no avail. The creature disturbing the sleep of the innocent townsfolk could not be found, and therefore could not be killed. Furious at their failure, Sir Helmsley sent the hunters back into the forest for a second try. This time, when the hunters returned, they came back sans the head hunter. He had disappeared in the night.

Now more afraid than furious, Sir Helmsley sent a troop of his fiercest, strongest, most capable soldiers into the forest to find this elusive terror of the night. Three days passed. Then another three days. Then another. The soldiers never returned. The town was in an uproar, the streets empty, trade on the decline, and Sir Helmsley stopped sleeping at night. Helmsley now knew he had but one recourse. He must go into the forest himself, destroy the monster, and save his people.

As Helmsley prepared for battle, as he donned his armor and sheathed his sword, he did not reflect on the glory that would be his if he would succeed. He did not feel the exhilaration of battle course through his noble veins. He did not tell a soul of his planned quest. He did not imagine the epic songs that would be sung of him -dirges of melancholy honor to his bravery should he be killed and triumphant melodies should he succeed where the strongest have failed. Helmsley was afraid, and he could not rouse himself to think anything but of his fear. It consumed him; it was destroying him. A face which once was admired by all the noble and certainly all the common ladies in the land was now drawn and stretched thin over his weary bones. He had never before fought for his people or his land. No wars called him to battle, no duels ever had to be fought to protect his honor. He barely knew how to hold a sword, let alone use one.

While he walked to the forest, Helmsley saw the sun begin its ascent over the horizon. He knew that day would likely be his last, and the beauty pierced a tear in his eye. He was not a fighter, he knew that, and nor did he love anyone dearly enough to want to live for them. He had no family, no close friends to speak of. He lived for his people, by listening to their worries and cares, and trying to do his duty by them the only way he knew how. And now that duty had come to this.

He faced the forest. It looked dark, surprisingly so in the daylight, and ominous. It seemed to warn him away and mock him at the same time, as though it knew he would flee from before its gloom. Helmsley squared his shoulders, took a shuddering breath, and took a step toward his fate.

To be Continued...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

On My World, Your World, Dating and Beer

It's strange, the way one considers the world one lives in. For example, sometimes I feel nearly plagued with the extent I consider my own world, and I wonder how all the other people around me, with me, walking beside me, consider their own worlds. Am I unique in my endless considerations? Does everyone constantly wonder, analyze and dream the way I do? Is the purpose of this forum -this blog world we tap into when we so desire - identification and validation that others are like us?

What is it that makes us want to be the same as everyone else and the same time so different? We like to be normal, and yet special at the same time. Accepted and yet revered. Included and yet set apart. What contrary creatures we are! The way we sympathize by saying "I know exactly what you mean!" but in the next second, we counter any complaint with some sort of exaggerated one-upping that we hope inspires at least a scintilla of awe. We humans often aim to be the best even in being the worse.

I don't mean to sound so cynical -I despise cynicism, I really do. I think it is one of the worst traits of our generation, a form of the deadening of feeling that causes us to deaden our hearts against others, against ourselves, against G-d. It is a manifestation of coldness and casualness unique to our day and age, and often lauded as wit and realism when in fact it is just carelessness and fear of idealism. But now I must write that I don't mean to come off so bitter, I really don't. It's just, and I think it might be self-evident from the whole of this post, that my mood as of late has been quite reflective. Emotions fill me and dreams consume me. I feel joy and pain in equal measures, and dreams of the future fill my mind and heart.

I ask why, but who knows the reasons for a woman's moods and contemplations...? Lately I have felt as if on the brink of a new life, as if the next date I go on might be with my future husband -someone I can love and live with and become a better person with and have children with. These are all my dreams are made of, and it hurts sharply in my innermost heart that these dreams have not yet come true yet. But I do not despair, for the deepest emotion, deeper even than that heart's ache, is hope. I have hope that all this craziness inside me -all these emotions and thoughts and dreams and contemplations and considerations -which are all there for a Reason with a capital 'R', will be loved and cherished soon. Very soon, I hope. I hope.

But let me not end this post there. You see, I have not posted for more than a month, and I do not want all my posts to be about dating and marriage -that would be way too girly of me:) Instead, let me finish off by finishing my original point. It's strange the way one considers the world one lives in. Every day in school, I am surrounded by hundreds of people, boys and girls, all of whom are a similar age to me, live in the same area, go to the same school, learn the same things...and yet, we all exist in our own worlds, and speak different languages of the heart and soul. And if any of them were to read this very personal post of mine, I doubt one of them would understand what I mean...just as I know I don't understand their worlds. (For one thing, I simply cannot understand going to a bar for fun. The music's too loud, no one can hear anyone talking, it smells like beer and liquor tastes like Robitussin, which i wouldn't take even for a sore throat! But maybe that's just me, and my world...)

So, on that note about beer and Robitussin,

Good night

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My Lonely Ego and I

Whenever I tell someone new that I'm a first year law student, I love watching their reaction. Mostly because I'm a dreadful, proud creature and being in law school is almost uniformly regarded as a wonderful achievement. I say almost, because it is not a completely uniform regard -there are the small pockets of the populace who don't understand why a religious girl so capable of doing more religious things would want to go out there in the big bad world and work so hard for so long when she might end up staying at home anyway, like some other very educated women of her family. There are also those that hear law school and think nothing negative but nothing too positive either -I'm twenty-one, I belong in school, I'm in school, no big deal. But as I said, those are only pockets and the general garment of humanity is usually impressed with my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed law school life. So I love watching the reaction -the widening of the eyes, the hesitant smile, and the ubiquitous "Oh really? That's so great!" and the occasional "good for you" that make it all worthwhile.

But it's not all fun and games you know. The works not too bad -I actually find it interesting, the people are super nice, and the teachers generally care that we learn something. I only have tests in the middle and the end of the year and the stress level is less than it was when I taught high school girls lessons from the parsha of the week.

But life is more than "what I'm doing now" -it's about my soul and about my heart. I guess I'm saying that it's not so easy. I feel as though I'm letting my life slip by without any actual growth, and the worst part of it is that I remember when I used to grow and how simple it was. Take a new thing upon yourself -something small, not too hard -and that was it. Now it's like, take something upon yourself not to not do, or something to do for once that hasn't been done in months. Whenever I remember the growing Okee, she seems so far away. And even though I think of her often, and her voice though distant is still heard, I can barely remember her face. If she were here, what would she tell me to inspire me to grow? What would she do?

This pondering, I know, is quite ridiculous, since I'm Okee and she is me, and I'm remembering a past self that's barely in the past...and when did the past self drift into the past, separating from the present self?

And that's just the matter of the soul. I also have a very big, beautiful heart to contend with. I'm lonely. I have friends -great friends -married friends, engaged friends, friends with babies, non-Jewish friends, non-religious friends, super busy friends, out-of town friends, friends with many friends. But I need more than that. And beyond the loneliness, I want to face life with another -to work toward something higher than my own growth and my own needs...I really want to get married. Sounds so...cliche' -a single girl who wants to get married. Bet you haven't heard that story before. But who cares about the corniness of it all, it needs to happen. I know this, Hashem surely knows this, and life is so hard for so many to face alone...

Well, meanwhile, I have much to occupy my time. Growth in mind, livelihood, spirit, family, friends...I love my life as is, as it's given to me, and I recognize it all comes from Hashem. And any dissatisfaction I have with it all has also been given to me, as a half of a whole, as one person without the other. So, I guess, besides all the regular hishtadlus like dating and davening, I can do something a little extra to add to my merits, and now that I'm writing this it seems so obvious: I should really stop being so proud that I'm in law school and stop telling people just to get a reaction. It's really not so well done of me. At least until I pass the bar, I should not let my head grow too swollen. After all, if I do get married soon (from my mouth to G-d's ear!), I do want to be able to fit into a sheitel.