Friday, July 25, 2014

A Fallen Hero from the Diaspora

It started with a dream. A young Austrian with a full black beard was daring enough to set the wheels in motion for what would eventually become the Jewish State. His vision: Jewish sovereignty for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple. He famously stated, “If you will it, it is no dream.” But his will wasn’t comparable to the will of others. In fact, I often question whether I’m worthy of applying such a statement to my own life. His will transcended all logical explanation. He refused to be deterred by rejection. He devoted his life to ensuring that there would one day be a place where no Jew felt ostracized or alien. 

Perhaps it would have been more fitting for Theodor Herzl, the father of Modern Zionism and my personal hero, to have stated, “If you’re as crazy and relentless as I am, it is no dream.” Such passion, the driving force in his unyielding efforts to achieve his life’s dream, comes along only once every several years. To draw from a religious phrase, he was a true Godolei Hador, only secular. 

Herzl sacrificed his personal sanity, his life’s savings, and his promising career as a journalist to set out on a far nobler, far more respectable mission. He left everything, all that he knew, in hopes that he’d find something better, something of greater meaning. 

A hero in his own way, Max Steinberg embodied many of the traits that allowed Herzl to change the world. All it took was a Taglit-Birthright trip to connect Max to his ancestral homeland. Previously uninvolved and relatively uninformed, Max discovered an ineffable connection to Israel upon his first visit there. Feeling he owed his life to the force that was tasked with protecting and perpetuating the Jewish State, Max enlisted in the IDF, accepting upon himself great responsibility, and similarly great risks. Much like Herzl, he left all that he’d known, all that he was comfortable with, for a far nobler life.

It seemed only fitting that Max, someone I’d never met nor heard of before his death, was buried just a short distance away from Herzl. Max was a pioneer in his own sense, and was well deserving of the distinct honor of being laid to rest in the same vicinity as the man who made his life so meaningful. 

As a Chayal Boded (Lone Soldier), it wasn’t expected that 15, let alone 30,000, people would attend Max’s funeral. His family spoke about how he had come to Israel with almost no family and friends in the country. But, with all due respect to the grieving, I can’t help but firmly disagree. Any soldier, any Jew, is a member of the extended family of Am Yisrael. 

As a Lone Soldier, however, Max assumed a role of, in my opinion, greater importance than that of a traditional soldier. Max, though perhaps unaware, inspired those around him, even the 30,000 who had never spoken a word to him, by leading by example in the process of the ingathering of the exiles. He left the diaspora to come home, where his family and friends were waiting. His sacrifice will forever be appreciated, and his death will certainly not be in vain. 

Though it’s difficult to imagine that there is any type of consolation that will ease the pain of Max’s friends and family, I find comfort in the fact that he died for the country he loved enough to leave his past life for. No peoples knows the importance of sacrifice like the Jewish people. As has been made clear by the outpouring of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments following the onset of Operation Protective Edge, the Jew will forever, even in the progressive world in which we currently live, need to sacrifice himself for the whole of the nation. Max made the ultimate sacrifice. 

One of the persistent and tragic themes in Jewish history is unity brought by pain. Jews of all religious factions, and surely all political beliefs, gathered to honor the dead at Har Herzl on Wednesday. It’s a shame, however, that such unity is elusive in times of relative calm. Such a relationship among the opposing sectors of Judaism is certainly not the most efficient and effective form of cohesiveness. 

We should not only mourn Max Steinberg’s death, but we should celebrate his life. We should celebrate the life of each and every chayal (soldier). We shouldn’t depend on tragedy to bring us together; we should be preemptively united, putting us in a better position to face those who wish to see our demise. 

To see my brother and sister Jews cry for a brave young man from California whom they’d never met was truly awe-inspiring. To track the steady stream of funeral goers entering the gates of Har Herzl was mind boggling, as they seemed to never stop pouring in. 

When people ask what it means to be a Jew, I’m unsure of if there’s a better response than to point them to an event like the funeral of Max Steinberg. To be a Jew is to be a member of a family in which each brother is accountable for each sister, and visa versa. 

My heart is heavy with sorrow as my family members continue to die on the front lines of war. But to know that they passed while giving the ultimate sacrifice is somewhat consoling. To know that their deaths have contributed to the eternalization of the Jewish nation elicits both comfort and respect. 

Max Steinberg deserves to rest for eternity beside the man who made his sacrifice possible. He deserves to be regarded as as much of a hero. He, along with anyone who defends the State of Israel from its enemies, holds a special place in olam haba (heaven). 

Like Herzl, Max was crazy enough to pursue his dreams. For that, we should forever admire him. 

Baruch Dayan Ha’emet. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Lonely Jew

My heart broke upon hearing the story of a survivor from the Warsaw Ghetto. Starving and on the brink of death, he snuck into a courtyard and sifted through the garbage. In it, he found a piece of moldy bread. To us, such a discovery would mean little. To this man, it meant he had a chance to prolong, even briefly, the life of his emaciated, dying father. Mustering up all of the energy left in his skeletal body, he rushed home with bread in hand, and hope in mind. When he opened the door, he called out "Father, I have food!" But no one answered. Eventually, to his dismay, he found his father dead and swollen, lying naked on the living room floor.

As the still bereaved man recollected the moment in which he found his father dead, tears began to well in his eyes. Naturally, the profundity of his story touched me in a way that I'll never be able to fully express. This man and his family were no longer perceived as humans. His father died in a way akin to the death of a stray dog.

I continued my journey through Yad Vashem.

At the next screen, I heard a man describe the way the ghetto desensitized its inhabitants toward death. The starving and homeless walked by carcasses at every street corner. Soon, they no longer felt inclined to mourn. Wherever they walked, death was with them, and there came a point when living with such a harsh reality was all that was possible.

Just before the end of the impressive and powerful exhibit, I read about the conclusion of WW2 and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel. An audio tape of David Ben-Gurion reading the Israeli Declaration of Independence, his voice noticeably bursting with emotion, played as photos of May 15th celebrations in the new state flashed across the screen.

Never again would we be subjected to such torture. Now, there was a place of refuge where we would no longer be considered subhuman.

At that moment, more than any other, I understood the necessity to defend the Jewish people from those who wish our demise at any and all costs.

Hours later, I heard news of Israel's recently launched ground operation in Gaza. Of course, such news came with the quick realization that my brother had been dispatched into hostile territory, thrust into the center of a frightening and dangerous conflict. An array of worries began to cloud my mind, but then something surprising happened. I realized that this operation served as an opportunity for my brother, as well as the rest of the conscripts of the Israeli army, to defend the Jewish State from those who wish again to wipe us off the face of the earth. Such a realization served as consolation.

The Jew, by his very birth, inherits a a paradox. He is predisposed to being hated, and such hatred would seemingly be reason to feel a sense of embarrassment. Yet, the Jew simultaneously inherits a sense of pride that transcends all external opinions and baseless hatred. The latter inheritance leads many to refer to us as the "Chosen Ones" with a tone of bitterness rather than praise.

Where the Jew will fail, has failed, is when they mold themselves to meet the expectations of others, and to avoid the condemnation of those who feel condescended upon.

The German Jews became Jewish Germans. Six million perished. When push came to shove, the Jew was helpless.

The American Jews are becoming the Jewish Americans. In a different, but arguably equally effective way, millions of Jews are vanishing. When push comes to shove, the Jew is running from their identity.

It's imperative that such a trend does not continue. We are no longer the helpless, wandering Jews. We are no longer the subject of discussion regarding the "Jewish Question." We should be proud, and we must stop at nothing to ensure the perpetuation of our people.

With anti-Semitism filling the streets of Europe and even America, now, more than ever, is the time to wake up and realize that the Jew will always be alone. The Jew will always be responsible for ensuring its own future. The media is waging a fierce propaganda battle against not only Israel, but global Jewry. The people are listening. Jews, yet again, are being isolated and singled out.

So, I write to express my belief in Israel's right to defend itself. I write to express my belief that, regardless of external pressure and opinion, Israel must place its best interest before anything else. The media will propagate lies and incite violence and bitter hatred. But what has the Jew not faced before? What challenges has he not overcome?

We have the power to determine our fate. We mustn't use it foolishly.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Express And Be Cured

There's something beautiful about vulnerability. At the same time, though, there's something utterly terrifying about it. I spent years fearing commitment to any and everything. Such a fear seems to have been the natural product of spending the key developmental years of my upbringing in continuous disappointment due to my entrusting others with my emotions. I learned, painfully and slowly, a universal truth: Some people will deeply hurt you.

For me, it was my mother. She and I have a past that I don't feel needs to be thoroughly picked apart. Suffice it to say that we no longer have a relationship. Part of the reason why things have come to such a dramatically sour state is because, as a young boy, I wore my heart on my sleeve, only to have it time and again broken by her consistent absence and self-absorption.

I have vivid memories of standing alongside my classmates during school productions. Though we were uniform in dress and our choreography dictated synchronized movement, it was quite clear to me that I wasn't the slightest bit similar to my peers. They were performing to the pleasure of their parents. I watched as they scanned the audience, and then envied the bright look that came across their faces the moment they found their loved ones.

Meanwhile, I stood atop the stage, gazing out into a sea of relatively strange faces. My mother was seldom in attendance, thus giving me nobody to perform for. It was ironic - our performances garnered high attendance, yet I couldn't help but feel alone.

For years, I felt the aftereffects of being mistreated and deserted. I developed this idea of emotional expression as one in which any display of vulnerability was the equivalent of displaying weakness. Therefore, I snatched my heart from my sleeve and hid it from those around me. What ensued was a cycle of anger and misery.

My emotional expression became one dimensional; that emotion being catharsis. The pain I felt welling up inside of me manifested itself in the form of fits of rage, launched objects across my bedroom, and physical outbursts that stemmed from constant, inexplicable frustration. The scars that were left were waiting to be healed, but my ill-conceived understanding of emotional expression inhibited my dealing with my past in a healthy manner.

Eventually, though, I grew tired of being angry. I grew tired of being miserable. Such emotions don't allow much flexibility when it comes to enjoying life. When I made the conscious decision to eliminate the demons of my past once and for all, I found that I simply didn't know how. To express my pain would go against everything I'd come to believe. To show that I felt would, I thought, denote weakness.

How foolish I was. With the help of several very special people, I was able to understand that emotional expression cannot be healthy unless one is willing to be vulnerable and open. It wasn't until I released my painful past that I could begin to move on. Such a practice of open expression was, initially, a source of discomfort. But as time wore on, I began to see the fruits of what to me was my labor. The tension and frustration began to erode. I found a new, more emotionally in-touch side of myself.

People often ridicule me for being so open. I'm generally patient with those who have the audacity to make such jabs. They don't understand that this, what I do here on my blog, is instrumental in my recovery process. We all have scars and dark pasts and tragic stories to share, and I firmly believe that each of us would benefit from actually sharing. There is no shame in being emotionally expressive and true to your convictions. If you aren't comfortable enough with your past to share it with others, then you may find yourself anchored there, unable to move on and make the world your own.

I have much left to do in my journey of emotional recovery. I've merely begun the process of picking up the pieces of my once broken spirit, and I feel completion is distant. What I've learned throughout this perpetual trial is that you should never stop reflecting and introspecting. The more you evaluate yourself, the likelier you are to appropriately detect and assess your flaws, and subsequently resolve those issues. I take each day as it comes - whether that entails calming myself down when I begin to feel frustrated, or reassuring myself when my confidence wanes. I feel that such an approach is not only nice in theory - it's effective.

So, I urge you not to fear when it comes to being emotionally expressive. Vulnerability is often dangerous. My mother has confirmed that people are, inevitably, going to hurt you. But it's important to take that pain, express it, heal it, and find the strength to re-open yourself to others.

I've taken my heart out and again placed it confidently on my sleeve. I cannot predict what pain is awaiting me, but I can say that I'll never let it bring me to, as it once did, lose my faith in humanity. I'll never let someone else make me miserable. I refuse to repress my emotions, and I urge you all to pop your bottles and let it all out.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why We Should Care

Elazar, Gush Etzion

It was my first morning in Israel this past summer. Being jet-lagged, I awoke just before the sun rose over the Hills of Judea. Though I'm not particularly religious, I decided to step outside into my brother's backyard to say Shacharit, the morning prayer. As I began to wrap my tefillin, chills permeated throughout my body. The wind brushed my skin as if it embodied a message. Before I donned the shel rosh, I gazed at the clouds that were moving quickly overhead. In that moment, I felt more connected to the Land of Israel, the ancestral homeland of my forefathers, and the eternal homeland of my descendants, in an unprecedented way.

God was there. He was just above me. His presence had manifested itself in the form of a guardian cloud. He was making His rounds, ensuring the safety of his coveted people, just before they were expected to awake. For the first time in my life, the abstract took form. I had spent much of my adolescent years searching for God, and in a moment of simplicity, yet overwhelming emotion, I found Him.

The Old City, Jerusalem

As the sun fell and Shabbat was about to begin, my friend and I hastily made our way toward the gates of The Old City. When we neared the entrance, it became increasingly difficult to maneuver through the large flood of people who were similarly eager to make it to services on time. Finally, we emerged at the steps overlooking the Wailing Wall, the Kotel. Awestruck, I surveyed the surrounding area, and estimated that at least a few thousand people would be joining us for afternoon prayers. After my friend and I parted ways, I made my way into the crowd on the men's side of the holy site. 

In that relatively minuscule area, I found myself surrounded by each conceivable faction of global Jewry. It appeared to me that they, too, felt God's presence in the air, and were willing to disregard the religious differences that distinguished them for the sake of collective prayer. And so began my understanding of the unifying nature of the Land of Israel.

Gush Etzion, The West Bank

Three Yeshiva students, one with dual US-Israeli citizenship, are kidnapped near my brother's home, the place where I first felt God's presence in my life. Suddenly, the unity that I so strongly felt in the summer of 2013 is broken. Suddenly, a piece of Am Yisrael is missing. 

Why We Should Care

Why should we, detached American Jews, care so strongly for the three adolescents who were tragically abducted in the West Bank this past week? Why should we pray for their safe return home? 

Because those three Jewish teenagers are us. 

Our bond to them is as inseparable as our bond to our parents. We were born into this covenant, into this religion in which a piece of ourselves is embedded in our fellow Jews. There is no shaking such an eternal bond. There is no elasticity. It is absolute, beautiful, and what distinguishes this religion from all others. Our family members are missing, and it's in our best interest to have them returned home safely. 

Just as I leisurely strolled through the Hills of Judea, relishing my time spent in the presence of God, they sought to enjoy a similar experience. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a portion of the Palestinian population that seeks the utter and absolute annihilation of the State of Israel and the Jews that inhabit it. With each terror attack perpetrated by Hamas, they are slowly severing the tie that bonds global Jewry together. They are taking and destroying pieces of the whole of Am Yisrael

Such acts should not, cannot, and will not be tolerated by the Israeli population, and it's my hope that such sentiments are shared by the rest of global Jewry. It is our duty to be concerned for our brothers. It is our duty to call out to the God who has been with us throughout the tumultuous 3000 years of our miraculous existence. We must pray and plead for the safe return of these three boys because they're far more than "just" three boys. 

They're us. 

Israel is in a state of mourning. Thousands gather at the Kotel each night to give the name "The Wailing Wall" a whole new meaning. Secular or religious, they cry out for God's help because they understand that the Nation of Israel is nothing without each member. They are unified by God's explicit presence, and such a feeling of unity drives them to despair until their fellow Israelis are returned home to their families. 

We don't have the luxury of feeling God's presence in the same manner, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't cry louder or work harder to gain His attention. I haven't been praying enough. I could cry louder. I could plead in a more crafty, persistent way. And I will begin to do just that. It's the least I can do to keep my people fully intact. I hope you do the same. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

A New Approach

I think it's time to address an issue that has taken contemporary Western culture by storm. Perhaps it's an uncomfortable topic, or perhaps you simply don't care to accept the fact that it's an issue, but I nevertheless feel it deserves in-depth analysis and proposed solutions. This issue has slowly become one of the most prominent in the world, and it has embedded itself so deeply into the collective psyche of the male gender that shaking its influence seems to be a daunting, if not impossible, task.

It's time we talk about the objectification of women.

It's the norm to identify a woman by her physical attributes as opposed to the content of her character. When a name is dropped in a conversation, impulse motivates man to give his opinion on the way she looks, not on her sense of humor, intelligence, or uniqueness. When a woman walks by in a tight skirt, impulse motivates man to track her as though she is a lion's prey, and ultimately he disregards the fact that she is a human being. When confronted and challenged for acting in such an animalistic manner, impulse motivates man to shift the blame, which most often results in the absurd claim that the victim of those unwanted gazes provoked such actions.

I use the word "impulse" for a reason. It's not that we, the male gender, want to objectify women in such an insensitive way. It's that we have been raised in a culture that allows, if not encourages, such twisted objectification. Sex is idealized and endlessly present in the mainstream of American culture, and it's therefore no wonder as to why we can't help but think about it. We've been conditioned to look first and listen second. Understand this, though: I am in no way justifying these immoral impulses; I am merely speculating as to why they're so prevalent.

Furthermore, many of us have never been taught differently. We've never been questioned for objectifying, and we've never been instructed to do otherwise. That's where the current generation comes in. It's our duty to change the tide in this losing battle. Though, again, impulses are incredibly difficult to control, they are not entirely impossible to change.

We have the power to give forethought before we objectify. We have the power to make a concerted effort to analyze, converse with, and explore the depths of the women we come across. Our only option is not objectification.

I can proudly say that I am a sane, reflective man. Therefore, I have it in me to approach my perception of the opposite gender in a different, far more humane way. I put these thoughts in writing as I prepare to embark on my personal journey toward gender equality in both the physical and conceptual worlds. I urge those reading to join me in this difficult battle, as I'm sure that our changed perceptions will further inspire the generation that follows us.

It's time that we saw other humans for who they are inside, as opposed to what they have to offer on the outside. Join me in this journey toward sensitivity and understanding. Let's change the way we think, and hope that such actions will lead others to do the same.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Grand Farewell

I was tired.
I was frustrated with who I was.
I was under the pressure of living in my brothers’ shadows.
I was hurt from being broken inside and failing to find the voice to seek help.
Unsatisfied with living in this little, isolated bubble.
Sick of being angry.
While struggling to develop in a broken home, I felt as though the world was playing some cruel, intricate joke on me, as though God was just some abstract concept, perhaps the product of wishful thinking, and as though I didn’t belong because I struggled with Shabbat and Kashrut.
I felt the world toppling down on me, and it pushed me to a breaking point - to where I had to take a deep breath and just stop.

And reflect.
And evaluate.
And change.

Of all of the things I’ve learned throughout this period of introspection, there is one lesson that has emerged as most significant. I’ve learned to be myself. My unapologetic, unadulterated, uncensored self.

The voice that once drowned in suffering has emerged to fight social injustice. The shadow of my siblings has vanished, as a new light has been cast over a life of my own. I no longer feel like an outcast, as I’ve learned to block out the judgements. And the bubble that once made me feel trapped has been popped by my irrepressible desire to find more in life.

And, much to my surprise, I’ve found a vast world of diversity and refreshing opportunities. I’ve found a city with Jews of different denominations - Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative. I’ve found youth of different religions - Jews, Muslims, and Christians. I’ve found that life is comprised of antitheses - jubilation and depression, normality and eccentricity.

I’ve found reality.

I’ve become who I am - an open minded person, an inquisitive Jew, a controversial voice, and a proud man - despite the fact that some of my beliefs conflict with the values of this community.

I often find myself wondering how I grew to be so different. And it wasn’t until recently that I found my answer.

This school, the place I’ve given my life to for the past 13 years, has played the most integral role in assisting me in becoming the man I am today. This school has shown me the value of embracing the differences that make me unique. A place where people like Rabbi Gil Perl see value in being explorative, in being controversial, in embarking on intellectual pursuits. Where people like Rabbi Uriel Lubetski are always accessible, and find the time to address issues, thoughts, and even the silliest of disagreements. Where people like Mrs. Rochelle Kutliroff refuse to accept social injustice and utter ignorance, and hold an unwavering sense of Jewish pride. Where people like Mrs. Melissa Perl are willing to help those broken students in need of guidance, and do so without passing judgements. Where people like Dr. Whitney Kennon are willing to drop the teacher persona and become a friend, doling out advice when necessary. Where people like Coach James Nokes give me the positive encouragement I need to have a healthy outlook on life. Where people like Mrs. Abby Johnson have shown me that it’s okay to interpret life differently from the majority, and that to do so should be cause for pride, not embarrassment. Where people like Mr. Dana Vaughn care to stop, even for a moment, to discuss some of life’s greatest mysteries, despite the fact that some topics may push the boundaries of the Orthodox day school status quo. Where people like Rabbi Noam Stein relate to some students in whom they see a piece of themselves, and are eager to assist them in finding who they are. Where people like Mr. Daniel Wallace, Rabbi Yonason Gersten, Mrs. Talya Tsuna, and all of the other teachers who have come and gone throughout the years express genuine interest in the wellbeing of the students that they’re tasked with educating. Because people here care - have always cared - and will always care.

We were asked to write about how we’ve grown throughout our years at the Margolin Hebrew Academy. Instead, I discovered how the Margolin Hebrew Academy has raised me.

Despite the hardships and despite the differences, I have a special place in my heart for this school and this community. I leave here a changed man, aware of who I want to become, and well aware of who I don’t want to be.

With love, appreciation, hope, and faith, I leave you now with one parting wish: Fight to preserve the unique character of this school, and look hard enough to see the value in it being open to varying ideas. It has shown me that being different is okay, and that’s something I’ll take with me עד מאה ועשרים.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Striking a Balance

I was in kindergarten when I discovered what it means to act impulsively. I was in the midst of an at-bat during a game of recess baseball when I received news that my brother was being tormented by a classmate. Though moments before I was entirely focused on striking the next pitch thrown my way, I quickly abandoned what had, upon hearing news of my brother’s predicament, become a relatively insignificant task. It took but a split second for me to spring into action. I scurried across the field, moving as quickly as a three year old is capable of, and spotted my brother’s pursuer. Void of all logical thinking or problem solving capabilities, I chased down my target, screaming furiously with each step, and lunged in their direction. I don’t recall what happened between my leap of faith and my being sent home for misconduct, but the significance of that seemingly trivial event is something that I’ll never forget. 

That day marked the first of what would be many cases in which I let my short temper defeat my rationale. From that telling moment as a youngster, I garnered quite the reputation of being cynical, impulsive, and angry. I gave no reason for others to think different of me, and a certain stigma with which my presence was associated began to rapidly form. It wasn’t until high school that I found the strength to undergo a period of introspection in which I detected my flaws, dedicated myself to correcting them, and set goals for who I wanted to become. And yet, as my time in the CYHSB rapidly slips away, I still can’t seem to shake the preconceived notions that blind many of my peers from seeing who I’ve become, rather than who I once was. 

It’s my belief that this is the same for many of my fellow classmates. Each of us have undergone periods of significant transformation in the last four years, yet we struggle to cleanse our reputations of past mistakes, thus denying us the opportunity to present ourselves absolutely reborn. But now, as our pasts are fading away and our future is shining bright, we have the opportunity to, in a sense, start anew. 

A change of scenery, a re-selection of compadres, and the opportunity to establish ourselves without the aforementioned preconceived notions lie just beyond this nearing summer vacation. While the prospect of having a tabula rasa is exciting, it also yields a very crucial question: How much do we separate from our former selves, and how much of our pasts do we hold onto? 

I occasionally lie in bed and recall that leap of faith and the day that, in my mind, will forever live in infamy. And though that episode served as the beginning of a frightening habit, I nevertheless find myself sleeping peacefully on those nights of recollection. When I envision my impulsive, misguided, and foolish former self, I find satisfaction in how far I’ve come since then. I feel gratified by the fact that, throughout the past several years, I, along with my classmates, have grown by leaps and bounds. This seemingly simple story is, in actuality, incredibly complex, and it holds the answer to the aforementioned crucial question.  

We must journey forward in our lives, but not at the expense of the memories that have molded the people we’ve become. Our futures lie ahead, and we should approach with our heads held high and our chests jutting outward, but we must also drag our pasts behind us; not to weigh us down, but to serve as a reminder of who we once were. Without consistently reflecting on our pasts - the good, bad, and the disgraceful - we will find ourselves incapable of moving forward. By making mistakes, we learn how to act appropriately. By hurting others, we learn how to respect. By acting impulsively, we learn how to act rationally. I’m no wise man, but I’ve come to think of life as one big opportunity for trial and error. We must err, transgress, hurt, and disrespect in order to arrive at self actualization. There’s no shame in remembering who you once were, even if that person faintly resembles who you are now.

And so, I sleep peacefully because I’ve begun striking my balance. I long for the opportunity to establish myself before others, to come forth with a blank slate and the chance to make solely good memories. But I equally value the mistakes I’ve made and the disgraceful things I’ve done, for those are the very reasons why I’ve arrived where I am today. I imagine that I’ll keep a great deal of my past mistakes to myself, but their implications and effects will remain lodged in the forefront of my mind throughout the next stages of my life, reminding me of what I don’t want to be, and inspiring me to progress toward my ideal self. 

We seniors have a beautiful opportunity. Though the imminence of our departure brings an array of uncertainties, there’s one absolute: We have the opportunity to re-establish ourselves. I feel it’s imperative that we take full advantage of this opportunity, but we do so in a way that allows us to hold onto pieces of our former selves. Our time here, in Memphis, has primed us for the future. We mustn’t forget that we owe who we presently are to who we once were.