Relationships, Religion, Writing

View from above

No matter how blurred or undefined my picture of God is, no matter how my connection to religion swells or retreats; the one God-related belief I hold fairly dear is omniscience. If God were a storyteller, let’s say, he’d be third person with both a bird’s eye and a worm’s eye view of all that ever was and all that ever is and all that ever will be.

Which means, I also believe, that God laughs a lot.

Laughs at our missteps, our confusion, our despair — in a loving, playful way, the way a parent might smile watching her toddler fall hard on his bottom over and over again in his attempts to learn to walk.

Or the way a writer foolishly grins as he shapes his characters because a writer is, in a way, in love with all the characters he creates — no matter how ugly or beautiful, how wise or how foolish.

I don’t necessarily believe that God is omnipotent, however. I don’t believe he interferes in the doings of man, though I do imagine that he might adjust the direction or speed of the wind from time to time so that man might meaningfully turn his head or shift his gaze. I believe that God watches us, and more than anything else concrete, I understand God as a representation of that great unattainable knowledge and understanding I’ll never have, but will never stop seeking.

I imagine, too, from his third person point of view, God watches us with great compassion.

I wish I could borrow some of this compassion from time to time when I tell myself my own story; as I do when I lie in bed at night and review my day; as I do when I tell “truths” about myself or make claims about how other people see me (as if I could really know).

Or when I dig through the first person evidence of my life: When I read my old journals (and cringe at my naive innocence or unabashed immaturity); or remember (out of the blue or obsessively) the things I’ve done I wish I hadn’t or wish I had handled differently.

Did you ever notice how much compassion we can summon up for others? For strangers especially? How our hearts swell when someone else is dwelling on what they once did wrong?

Yet, it’s insanely difficult — if not near impossible — to summon up that same compassion for ourselves. To allow ourselves to view our stories as God might or as the third person omniscient narrator would– minus regret, minus shame, minus fear — simply with close observation, the space for varied interpretations, and occasionally, with a playful compassionate laugh out loud.

Letting Go, Memory

Note to Self

So much of my life lives on paper.

In letters, in cards, on glossy, on matte.

Inside once locked hardcover journals, there are words scratched in anger, in pain, and occasionally, in radical amazement.

Inside carefully categorized photo albums, there are faces I used to recognize, love, envy.

Most of it — my life on paper — reflects only what was once the drama of my life. For this is what we photograph. Parties, graduations, weddings. And this is what we journal. Love, loss, confusion.

Drama. It’s indeed the drama that compels us to document, to reflect.

But, as I’ve discovered through digging in my cardboard boxes, there is another side to my life lived on paper.

The mundane.

Surrounded by doodles in spiral bound notebooks is the every day life I lived once, in between the drama. Errands I had to run. People I agreed to meet. Tasks I needed to complete.

In pen, in pencil, and in sparkly marker, there they live. All those moments in between.

As notes to self.

“Send confirmation fax to Mark about disclosure.”

“Laurie’s new phone in L.A.”

“Talk to NH about DA after conf. call.”

All of it meant something once. All of it familiar enough to allow for shorthand. All of it important enough at the time to require a note. Now the majority of it is meaningless.

Right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The mundane is, perhaps, the most important documentation of all. It reminds us that most of our life is not the drama (despite what our memories will have us believe.)

Most of our life is the stuff of spiral bound notebooks. And it’s good to be reminded of this, especially when you are turning 40 and reflecting on the life you have lived until now.

In one of my boxes, I found three spiral-bound notebooks, chronicles of my mundane every-day work life in the years 2000 and 2001. What would possess someone to save her old work notebooks? I don’t know. What was I expecting I would one day find inside them? I’m not sure.

But what I did find inside one made me smile.

It aroused in me wonder.

It made me look upwards toward the sky, to the place where I believe magic originates.

Inside an 80-sheet, 60% recycled paper spiral bound notebook, I found a note to self from April 2000.

writing avi name

It was the first time I ever wrote my husband’s name.

There among reminders-to-call and freelancer phone numbers, it lives.

A document that I once did not know my husband. That I once needed to write his name in a notebook in order to remember him. That this man, who I now know better than any man, once existed for me as scribbles on a page, as individual digits.

And I even misspelled his last name. My last name, now.

Once, long ago, I didn’t know how to spell my last name.

Mind-blowing, isn’t it? Or not, depending on how caught up you get in such ideas. What does it matter that you once wrote your future husband’s name in a work notebook? Someone more grounded than I might ask.

And I might shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know why it matters.”

Except it does.

It’s there. Evidence of how quickly life shifts. How easily the mundane becomes the drama.

Proof that there’s magic in the sky waiting to sprinkle down upon on us and show up as letters written in sparkly marker.

A reminder that our life is a mixture of the drama and the mundane, and that we can never truly be certain what or who will carry meaning for us one day, and what or who will be relegated to the margins of our lives.

Uncategorized

Exchange of letters

I was thinking of Sarah this morning when I realized how many similarities there are between the online friendships I’ve cultivated and the pen pals I used to collect as a young girl.

Sarah and I are planning to meet in real life for the first time. Despite the fact that we both are former Americans living in Israel, and only live an hour’s drive from each other, we’ve never sat to drink coffee together; have never spoken on the phone. I don’t know what Sarah’s voice sounds like even, and this is what I was thinking about when I realized that Sarah exists for me like my much-loved pen pals from childhood. The deep way one knows someone through letters. Except the letters are blogs, and Facebook chats.

When I was a girl — mostly from the ages of 12 – 16 — I exchanged letters with a few other kids my age. I vividly remember two of them, for they were strangers.

Thanks Ali Martell for the pic
Thanks Ali Martell for the pic

Unlike Robert, my camp friend from Texas, or Natali from Mexico, both of whom became active pen pals of mine after shared experiences in real life; Kim and Phillipa, I never met. We starting writing each other because we were subscribers of Bop! magazine. (The original Match.com for pedophiles, Bop actually published in each issue a list of names and addresses of pre-pubescent girls. Can you imagine???)

Unlike my school friends, Kim and Phillipa exist in my memory only as curvy, bubbled Ms and skinny, drooping Qs; as unevenly snipped wallet-sized portraits taken during Picture Day. I never knew their voices so I can’t hear them in my head even if I try. I never knew how tall they were. Whether or not they were skinny or fat. Pimply or clear-skinned. Popular or tortured. Smelled like Chloé or B.O.

We never got in fights over a boy. We never stopped speaking to each other in the halls. We never shared sleepovers or sundaes.

And yet, I loved them in a way. I was grateful for their showing up in my life. In my mailbox.

I knew Kim’s hobbies; Phillipa’s favorite American movie stars. I knew about their jealousies of their siblings and their crushes on the neighborhood skater boy. I imagine they told me secrets they never shared with their school friends. I know I shared with them a few of mine.

There’s something sacred and safe in living and loving only through letters.

Isn’t that what most of us with online-only friends would say about many of those friendships? There’s something sacred and safe about them?

No, we don’t ‘know’ each other in ‘real life’ … but then again, what is ‘real’ life?

Love, Memory

It is a dream and a song

In one of my cardboard boxes, I found a folder with some work samples from my time as a book club manager at Scholastic.

While rifling through the R.L. Stine Goosebumps newsletters and colorful seasonal book catalogs I used to edit, a typed out note on white paper fluttered through the air and landed on the floor. It took me only seconds to realize what it was: a note from my former co-worker, Nelson, a kind man, the production manager of the creative team.

The words gracing the page were in Spanish, and though I hadn’t thought of them or heard them in years, I knew they were the lyrics of a song.

Nuestro tema esta …

Cantado con arena, espuma y aves del amanecer.

I rushed to the computer. Standing in front of the monitor, I typed in YouTube, then the words:

“nuestro tema”

The song appeared in the search bar. I held my breath.

You know the kind of breath holding I mean?

When you know you’re about to get the wind knocked out of you … but in a good way?

I pressed play and waited to get the wind knocked out of me.

And, as I could have predicted, I was overcome … a wave rolled over me. 

I closed my eyes.  And smiled. 

* * *

The song, by Cuban musician  Silvio Rodriguez, was on a mixed tape someone made me. Smitten by Rodriguez’s voice and guitar, I brought the tape into work and asked Nelson, a native Spanish speaker, to listen and transcribe the lyrics for me. (This was back before there was “lyricsfreak” and other easily available websites.) Even though my high school Spanish was rough, when I got the words from him, I immediately understood enough of the sentiment, and some of the imagery to know for certain it was a love song. A metaphor. A painting in words. Pure poetry.

” …besos a las seis de la manana” 

Best of all,  with the words in hand, I could sing along to the achingly beautiful voice.  

Which is what I did for weeks and weeks and weeks until I eventually lost interest … and track of the song.

* * *

Nuestro tema esta… Nos cuesta tanto

Que ya es un sueo y una cancion.”

Back in the present, I hummed along, thankful for the easy access of YouTube (and wishing I had never given away my Yellow Sony Walkman…who would’ve guessed?)

I only became aware of my breath again when the song was finished. I had apparently let it out at some point. My chest was relaxed; my shoulders loosened. My soul lighter. The wave had passed over me and back out to shore.

For this is what “Nuestro Tema” always did for me. Let me believe I could let go of some of the weight of the beauty and agony of this world, knowing that others were bearing it for me.

I couldn’t have told you all that then, though.  That stuff about the beauty and the agony. About carrying the weight of it all on my shoulders.

I didn’t understand it then. The weight of all that beauty … that agony. The ability to let it go when we listen to music or allow our hearts to swell with someone else’s description of it.

All I knew is that I loved the song so much I had to know the words.

Childhood, Dreams, Family, Letting Go, Love, Memory, Mindfulness, Philosophy

A case for hoarding

I’m a hoarder.

I hoard paper, photos, t-shirts, cozy socks, cookies, memories, books.

Especially books. And memories.

I’m not so compulsive to be recruited for a reality TV show, but I’m bad enough that closets are always full and there’s never enough storage space.

Not in my house, not in my brain.

Despite this need to hang on, each time I have moved homes (about 6 or 7 times in adulthood), I’ve let go of things I didn’t think I would need anymore.

I purge — in the rapid, violent way the word evokes.

Goodbye to the japanime LeSportSac bag I coveted. Sayonara to the collector’s set of Leonardo DiCaprio movies on VHS. Farewell to the Fall-inspired finger paintings done by my son when he was 18 months old.

When we moved to Israel, a country that does not believe in closets, nor basements, my husband and I did a major purge — in the form of a yard sale and of giveaways to friends and neighbors. But there were about a dozen boxes we knew not to bother opening — for they would go into storage until we figured out exactly what this aliyah thing would mean for our family.

Boxes sealed in brown packing tape marked in hastily drawn capital letters:

JEN’S MEMORABILIA

AVI’S OLD PAINTINGS

WEDDING PARAPHENALIA

MIXED TAPES, SCHOOL PAPERS OF JEN’S, DO NOT THROW AWAY!!!!!!

CARDS, PERSONAL

Those boxes landed in Israel on a cargo ship a few weeks ago and eventually — after the usual Israeli-style run-around at customs — arrived in our storage room/bomb shelter last week.

Carefully, carefully I am opening those cardboard boxes.

Because they aren’t just cardboard boxes, you know.

They are Pandora’s. Modern day Pandora’s boxes.

Carefully… because danger lurks in the folded over corners of hoarded memories

just as often as joyful surprise.

Carefully… because yellowed papers inside a stale smelling tupperware container may easily transform into messages in a bottle.

Carefully… because when you save, when you keep, when you store away, you might just get what you wish for one day–

a portal into the past.

a light unto what was once dark.

* * *

Watch this space to see what I discover inside a set of boxes.