What Is Freedom?

I have a confession: I am bound in chains and sometimes I like it. My flesh is tethered by bands of leather and holy boxes inscribed with the word of God. The numbness under the straps speaks to me of security, reminds me of an invisible, all powerful touch.

The truth is metaphor’s a nasty animal that rears its head and paws at the dirt and runs off chasing wild game the moment you think it’s majesty might actually be your own.

But the bigger truth is this: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom, about what it means to be free, about liberation, and all the chains we carry.

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Closet Confidential

Have you ever heard a joke that’s great until the punchline, and then it falls apart?

I feel opposite that: I know where I’m headed, but not how to get there–not even where to start. You see, I just spent a week in San Francisco, and seeing what the world could look like–what a more inclusive and queer-friendly world can look like–has made me realize a world where sexual orientation doesn’t matter can exist. But after seeing such high levels of inclusion, coming home feels a lot like walking back into the closet.

It’s not as funny as a joke, is it? But it does have a better punchline.

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The Long and Short of It

I was out with friends watching Interstellar the other night. Afterwards we were standing around, trying to figure out the movie, some of us closer to understanding than others. I was one of these guys, trying to explain multiple dimensions to people who have never had to think outside three (and even had a hard time understanding those).

But I tried to take it further, make it clearer: dimension is not only a spatial measurement. We think of space in three dimensions: we can move forward/backward, left/right, and up/down–three measures, three dimensions. So what, they asked, is four dimensional?

It may seem like this will be a post about science, but hold on. Shortly, it won’t be.

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Three Winners

Sometimes the weather says it all: cold and bitter, turbulent, frustrated and uncertain–should it rain? Turn to ice? Remain indecisive, unfulfilled, until it blows aside?

Earlier this week three Muslim students at the blue school up the road (UNC Chapel Hill) were shot and killed over an alleged parking dispute, but in my heart, in my gut, I believe it truly was a hate crime. The small-town feel of our campuses was shaken, shattered.

The students, filled with fear, tragic loss. The weather said it all. A good friend, when I crossed her path yesterday, said it better: “They were our age, Darren. Our age.”

Since Wednesday I’ve heard nothing but the inspiring and heartwarming stories of these three students, their compassion, their faith, their service toward building bridges of understanding and commonness between diverse groups. And I can’t even bring myself to say their names, or write them, because to do so brings them too close, closer than I can handle. I didn’t know them, but I feel now as though I do, and it’s a loss I cannot bear.

I’ve thought all day, repeatedly for days, that hatred against anyone is hatred against everyone; violence against one is violence against all. And the oppression of Islam and Muslims in a Christan-dominated society recalls the same oppressions once faced by Judaism and Jews, and still often experienced if not at the same explicit and violent level as that experience by my Muslim sisters and brothers. I recall, as long as I can remember, the police officers guarding my synagogue’s doors, but what must they go through daily?

It’s rather atrocious, to think of it, that anyone should need security outside a house of worship, but that’s the virulent symptoms of a one-minded, belligerent society.

That’s not what I was trying to say. What I was trying to say is that today they were Muslim, but they could’ve been Jewish. They could’ve been gay. They could’ve been me.

Our age, my friend said. I think too often of death, but death is abstract, and in my mind I run through my obituaries, hopes and dreams of what my life should be: …survived by his husband and their children… well-known for his books of poetry and fiction series… They don’t stop at 25. They stop at 70 or 80 or 90. My greatest achievements are not serving in student leadership roles or working as a tutor–in these obituaries I’m praised for inspiring a hundred mathematicians, for being senator or governor or even president.

They don’t end at today. They certainly don’t end at the end of a gun.

It’s tragic, but that’s the wrong word. It’s sickening. Vile. Evil.

The Sages once asked, “Why was the Temple destroyed?” And their answer was sinat chinam, senseless hatred–and I believe that it is this same senseless hatred that has shook our community and every day still threatens to topple our entire world.

God, however, has provided an alternative: Chesed, compassion and loving-kindness, the lifeblood of these three students and the service that defines their all-too-short lives. Binah, understanding, the open-minded willingness to accept and learn. And gevurah, courage, strength, the candle flame flickering in the wind that holds on, burns brighter, stays alight.

I pray. I cry. What else can I do? I keep breathing, living, believing.

Expanding Networks

For more than a year I’ve had a Facebook page for The Writingwolf. There I’ve shared interesting articles, links to both the fun and the profound, and helped publicize my blogging. For longer than a year I’ve resisted branching outward and expanding my social media network, but you may have recently noticed that’s changed: For the past few weeks, I’ve had links to both my Twitter and my Instagram profiles–where I’m Writingwolf2010 on both–but I’ve yet to make an announcement or explain why.

So a few words are in order–why have I branched out, and why should you follow?

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Elastic Heart: Societal Struggles

I recently saw a news story float across my Facebook feed about Sia’s new music video for Elastic Heart. The article mentioned many fans have criticized the video for its implication of pedophilia, yet Sia replied she had intended “to create some emotional content, not to upset anybody.” The response was succinct, but kind and validating, and her additional comments left me intrigued.

So I watched the video, and here’s what I think.

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Re: the Season of Giving

Gift Giving

My fiance holds the gift I gave him on the eighth night of Chanukah. Dec. 23, 2014.

With the Season of Giving going behind us, it seems fitting to take a moment to say thank you–both to the people who gave me gifts personally, but also to all the people whose generosity helped brighten the lives of others. It’s always seemed fitting to me that the gift-giving holidays are all clustered during winter, when we (in the northern hemisphere) most need the cheerfulness to keep us warm until the spring.

As any gift-giver may know, the easiest gifts to send are those that give themselves–like cash and gift cards. There’s something special about tearing off the wrapping paper and seeing precisely what you want to get, but for as long as I can remember there has been a different kind of excitement when I open a gift card–now I’m holding potential, opportunity, and I get to go on an adventure to decide precisely what I want.

This post is about one such adventure.

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From Bliss, to Bliss

Three days ago I stood at security in the Mexico City airport. I hugged my hub-to-be and he held me more tightly than he ever has before. I felt the tears touching the back of my eyes, I felt the oceans rising beneath the moon, the highest tide willing and waiting to crash. I felt sheets of ice threaten to crush my heart, felt waves of magma pulse through my veins. I felt his arms tracing the contours of my body. I felt mine clenched around his body, tight enough to crack his ribcage and break through this hardened exterior.

I felt in love.

And three days ago, as we parted, kissed one last time, hugged again–because one can never be enough–our met eyes, smiled, assured each other (as we always do) that we’ll make it through this, that soon we’ll be together, that soon we’ll never have to say goodbye again. Then we waved, blew kisses, mouthed “I love you” until we passed from each other’s sight. My heart trembled like tectonic plates. My body shook like the earth wobbling on its axis, drawn around the sun in a cosmic whirlwind of gravity and dark energy.

I felt in love.

And three nights ago I crawled into my bed. I shivered beneath the sheets. So cold. I clutched my comforter, but there was no comfort: it could only remind me how empty my arms were, how his body was not sewn to mine. I awoke wondering where he was; I hit the snooze button again and again, because that’s what we do, because every time I turn off the alarm, we have another moment with each other–we have another moment free from the world, another moment to share for ourselves, to love and be loved.

I felt in love.

And the night before last, as the seconds ticked away on New Year’s Eve, I wrote to him: I am kissing you in my heart right now. And I wondered, what’s so big about the New Year? Why do we glorify January first? Why do we say this is the time to make life right? To make resolutions? To make goals? Why only now–why only now?

I am in love.

It permeates my cells like a virus, a disease–it fills my mind with fever as I lay beside him each night. One night I discovered why he burns against my skin: whereas my average body temperature is below average, his is above. Whereas I tend to feel warm easily, he is easily freezing. So when nothing separates our bodies, his furnace fuels my flood, and though I hate the heat, he has made me cold-blooded: without him to bring me to life, without his sunshine on my cold scales, I remain lethargic, lifeless, incomplete.

I am in love.

It is a state of being. It is the awareness that my heart beats for two. That as I yearn for him, he yearns for me. It’s the awareness that I need nothing else in my life than his presence. It is the grandeur of knowing we are true partners: that we’ll be here for each other no matter how far apart we are, that our greatest happiness is witnessing the other’s happiness, that our futures are one and the same.

I am love.

And it made me question the glory of New Year’s. This past year I have reevaluated my goals every month, and why should I change things now? Why should I close this chapter? What says I must start anew? To live every day like I’m dying–what does that mean? Living is dying. I want to live like I’m living–but what does that mean? What does that mean when living is loving?

I am love.

I want to love. I want to erupt with passion, overflow and blow like a hurricane in fury–the fury of mesmerization, disillusionment, realization and actualization. I want to be the best person I can be. I want to change the world, change the world, change the world. And what is the world? My world or yours–ours? And who are we? My personal circle of friends? My university, my city, my country? The world? Whose world?

Love.

That is my goal this year: to pursue what I love. To worship my body: to offer it nourishment through good food and pleasing activities, to express myself on the page, to indulge myself in guilty pleasures–late night reading and deep, dreamless sleep. To love: to write, to wonder, to realize. To share. To act. To do. To be.

Love.

Love.

Love.

My future is uncertain–and that’s scary. That’s fear. And love is the antithesis of fear. But the secret is understanding the distinction that love and fear are not feelings, but verbs: we can fear, or we can love–but we must do so actively, intensely, and absolutely: we must control, we must choose, we must believe.

I do not know if I will be accepted into either the master’s program I’ve applied for or Teach for America–if neither option comes through, by the end of May I will have no idea what I’m doing in life. I do not know if this will be the year I marry my fiance: we still must secure a sponsor, our visa petition may be denied, and other unexpected delays may arise. I do not even know when I will see him next–because for all of the above.

I could choose fear. I could collapse under the pressure of the world waiting on my shoulders, crumble and split apart like the beads of light that wander too close to a black hole, information preserved but forever indecipherable. Or I can choose to love. I can accept whatever stress and consequence fills the next 365 days. I can let go of blind terror; I can throw myself headfirst into every endeavor. I can love. I can open my heart, my soul, and let the world ravish me with all its wonderment–both the good and the bad.

I can love.

I am love.

Love.

This is my goal. This is my destiny. This is the fabric of my body.

A Long Way Forward and Back

Five years ago today I started blogging. Years before that, I had kept an online journal and routinely participated in other similar activities. It’s been a pleasure, an honor, and an adventure making it this far–and I hope always to be on this journey with you.

The truth is, however, that I began this journey for myself: It is a path I love to follow, not for those who join me on it, but for the sights and experiences it gives me. It is my hope, indeed it is my dream, that as I move through this life–living life first and foremost for myself–that my passions, especially those passions that I’m able to share, may enrich the lives of others as their passions have enriched mine–how Tolkien’s passion for Middle Earth, Einstein’s passion for scientific inquiry, and Milk’s passion for social change have all shaped my life and the lives of others.

And I hope, along this path we all share, I may glimpse your passions as well.

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To the Thief on the Subway

To the person who stole my wallet yesterday while on the subway in Mexico City with my fiance, I’m sorry. I don’t know why you felt the need to reach into my pocket as the crowd shoved its way into the train car and take what was not yours, but I pray there was a good reason–perhaps your kids are starving and you can’t find a job, perhaps a loved one is sick, perhaps you never learned the difference between right and wrong.

For each of these things, you cannot be blamed, and I am sorry.

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