Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Metaphysical Crossroads

It seems I’ve reached a religious crossroads. Though I was never one to abide by tedious law or hold dear the intricacies of our sages’ teachings, I was once eager to investigate Judaism. I did so in a “secular” manner, analyzing Jewish philosophy and seeking knowledge through historical accounts as opposed to Bible verses and Talmud tractates. I had a unique love affair with Judaism - its historical trajectory, underlying principles, and its unlikely survival throughout the ages.

I can’t say exactly when, but it seems our affair has collapsed, continuously disintegrating as I take each successive step away from my religious roots. 

There was once a time when prayer afforded me the opportunity to tango with God. Just the two of us, our own dimly lit room, and a passion reserved for the metaphysical. Now, though, the thought of prayer elicits scoffs of condescension, as though I feel I’m above something so expired. 

There was once a time when God’s existence was as true as my own two hands. Though there was no substance to which I could attribute His being, I knew - I just knew - that tangibility was irrelevant in determining His existence. He was an absolute. Now, though, I lose battles with logic, incapable of understanding how the fable of earth’s flatness has been written off as preposterous, yet a concept so primitive as an almighty being to whom we are obliged to expose our full selves is so readily accepted.  

There was a time when God was my best friend, a confidant of sorts. In moments of vulnerability or incapacitation, I felt an ineffable draw to Him. He provided assurance, unconditional support, authentic love. Now, though, I look elsewhere for consolation, a mark of my crumbling relationship and fleeting trust. 

The dust builds atop my Tefillin bag. The bookmark of my Chumash has rested between the same two pages for months, perhaps even a year. My Siddur feels the pain of neglect. My yarmulkas have escaped me - only they know where they lay. Will I ever go back? 

I am not unique in my arrival at this crossroads. I’ve been told stories of drifters who, triumphantly, found their way back. I, too, have been told stories of drifters who find themselves too far and too mindless to retrace their path. Which will I become?

God must be observing my regression, shaking His head in disappointment at the food I ate on what was to be my day of simple atonement. He must be hoping that I've traced my steps on the drifter’s path. He must be angry. He must be sad. He must be heartbroken and feel betrayed. But is He there? 

But does it matter? 

Perhaps He is a construct, a primitive and outdated idea. Perhaps He has survived because of His power to save. Perhaps we devote our lives to gaining His approval, but He is nothing but a figment of our imaginations - a twisted form of wishful thinking. 

But does it matter? 

You may search every forest, every valley, every crevice in hopes of finding Him, but you never will. Despite that, He has given my people a culture - a livelihood - that makes the validation of his existence irrelevant. He has guided us, He has taught us, and He has saved us. He has graced us the privilege of feeling attached to a peoplehood. The form He takes, if any, means little when considering His achievements. His legend may be all that He is. 

He may be a construct, a figment of our vivid fantasies, but to debate this is futile. By changing the world in the way He has, even if proven to be nothing more than an idea, “He” has become God. 

So why doesn't He matter? 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Goodbye to My Best Friend

Dear Honey, 

I’ll never forget the first time I laid my eyes on you. You were crammed into a tiny cage with a few other puppies. Though all of you were cute, something about you was distinct. Maybe it was the way your eyebrows were a different color than the rest of your hair. Maybe it was the cute, little moles on your face from which oversized hairs were growing. Or maybe it was fate. 

When we brought you home, we were all so happy. We had pressed for years to get a dog, but it wasn’t until Seth’s Bar Mitzvah that Neenz finally let us. From the moment you stepped inside, you were cherished, cared for, and always attended to. You were quite the aggressive puppy, and it scared the hell out of me when there was talk of possibly giving you away. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Honey, you came into our lives at a tumultuous time. Things at home were less than ideal, and we needed a distraction. You filled that role with ease and wonder. Countless nights were spent playing with you, teaching you tricks, and watching you grow into the phenomenal dog that you became. We owe a great deal of our happiness to you, as without you we wouldn’t have had reason to momentarily escape from the chaos of our world. 

I’m a night owl. I always have been. And one of the absolute best parts about bringing you into the family was that you always, almost every night, came to sit by me as I ate my late-night meals and watched Sportcenter. You would hop up onto the couch, twirl around five or six times, then find your comfiest spot and collapse into a peaceful, undisturbed sleep. I can’t count the number of times I would poke, push, and shake you, just to make sure you were still breathing. 

I could poke, push, and shake you now, but you would still be gone. 

You made our world so much brighter, Honey. I never knew it possible to kiss something a million times but still want to a million more. I never knew an animal could bring man such joy and loyalty. I remember junior year when I was bed-ridden with a neck infection. For a week, you hardly once left my side. You were my guardian, detecting my pain with instinct and protecting me with warmth and love. For that, I’m grateful.

For everything, I’m eternally grateful. 

You turned stones into mush, melted hearts with the adorable way you would flip onto your back for a belly rub, and brightened lives by simply being. I can’t express how fortunate I feel to have been able to spend an entire month with you during winter break. It felt so nice to grab my steak, sit down, and hear you emerge from Neenz’s room to sit with me - subtly begging, and always getting what you wanted. 

I’ll miss the way you’d snore while awake, the way you’d randomly be struck by sneezing attacks, the way you whimpered at the door after being stuck outside for merely a minute, the way you scratched the carpet before sitting, the way you licked up your own throw-up in a somehow elegant fashion, and the way you changed my life. 

No dog will ever come close to replacing you. You were a true gem for us all to share, love, and cherish. From the moment we brought you home, we knew that, in you, we had something special. I don’t think any of us quite expected how strongly you would affect us and how profoundly you would impact our lives. 

I can’t say goodbye. I won’t say goodbye. Because you are not gone. Your heart may pound no more, and your odd neck may never jiggle awkwardly again, but your life will live on through photos, videos, and stories of how you changed an entire family. 

You were the absolute best dog I ever could have asked for. You left us too soon, but I find solace in the fact that you spent your life happier than most other dogs. The degree to which we pampered you was truly something to marvel at, and I know you passed peacefully with the knowledge that we have no regrets. We sincerely hope that you didn’t either. 

You were sent to us by God to see us through our adolescence. You were there to provide warmth and comfort when mom wasn't. You gave us a reason to smile in even the darkest times. You came into our lives for a reason, and I firmly believe that you're gone for one too. Your mission has been completed, and now it's time to go. 

I love you with everything that I have, and my life will never be quite the same. Only time will heal this ineffable pain, and I hope it does sooner than later. Just know that, though the pain may subside, your memory will never leave me. You were truly my best friend, my confidant, and my sweet, sweet angel. 

Rest easy in doggy heaven. I’m not sure it could be better than the life you lived down here, but I hope it somehow is. Endless steaks and bacon strips - only for the best dog a young man could ask for. 

With love and gratitude, 


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Heartfelt "Thank You"

To whom it may concern,

My first birthday away from home was far better than I had expected. In all honesty, I was incredibly nervous coming into it. I felt that those I had connected with here at school couldn't provide the same love and comfort as those I had always celebrated this special day with back home. Boy, was I wrong. It turns out, this birthday has shown me far more than any before.

Today, I learned the importance of being entirely, wholeheartedly, unquestionably comfortable in my own skin I rediscovered the me that has been missing since I ventured into the great unknown that is Waltham, Massachusetts. Without the kind words of those with whom I grew into the man that I am today, I would not have had the same memorable experience that I did on this, my 19th birthday. Words can't convey the gratitude I feel for those who have taken the time and effort to reach out to me with meaningful sentiments of love and gratitude. To feel appreciated for who I've always been has reminded me of the importance of staying true to the man that I was when I left Memphis on August 23rd.

For whatever reason, I haven't at any point felt quite right since arriving at college. Of course, it's a massive transitionary period, one that poses several taxing challenges. That said, I wasn't close to prepared for the trials that lay ahead upon graduating high school. It's taken a great deal of time to settle into a rhythm in which I'm relatively at ease - 'relatively' being the key term. It's difficult to leave home - leave everything you've always known - for an unknown city filled with unfamiliar faces. And, as I've faced these difficulties, I seem to have gotten away from who I've always been. I'm proud to say that who I once was - who I was happy with - has returned to me.

This birthday has been meaningful in so many different ways. For one, the love with which my home friends reached out to me has touched me in an ineffable way. My best friends, my friends, my acquaintances - their efforts to ensure that I felt special today affected me in ways I never knew possible. My family and my informal family, compiled of lifelong friends and caretakers, have reminded me of my roots and inspired me to return to who I once was. My new friends, the people who have made my Brandeis experience what it's been, have given me hope for a bright future - one in which I can act perfectly natural.

It's with utmost sincerity and heartfelt gratitude that I say thank you to each individual who played an integral role in making my birthday experience as memorable as it was. Ironically, I went into my 19th thinking that this year's birthday was insignificant. I couldn't have been more wrong. This birthday has changed the course of the rest of my year, and I fully intend to carry this rediscovered confidence and refreshing momentum into my 20th year of life.

With love, appreciation, and gratitude,

Thank you.