In the first world, before the Immortals shattered it, there was a well formed from the corpse of a god, and those who bathed in its waters became without what was within. Their hidden truth became their physical form. Some who leapt beneath its depths believed they would be reborn beautiful and godly, only to emerge monstrous and ugly. And others, lame or little, ascended to perfection when they breached the surface.
Often I have wondered, if I were to fall within it, what form would I take.
At times I thought I would become a dragon, fearsome and flighty. Other times a mass of molten fire, a body built of flaming embers. Or I would sprout wings and feel my skin pulled taught against physical strength I’ve never possessed before. And sometimes, in my darkest of moods, I would fade from something human toward something beastly, wild and unruly, untamed and forged for pure destruction.
But there is no such well in this world to become outside what I see within.
When I left my room at four in the morning to leave for Alaska, I expected a lot of things: It would be cold, maybe I’d see snow, I’d get to learn about a new culture, work in a school, and maybe see some whales or the aurora borealis. And except for the last two, I did all of these things–but one thing I didn’t expect to learn about was names.
Names mean a lot to me: As a writer, a character’s name (or lack thereof) can be the most defining element to a story. As a leader, learning the names of my fellow students is not only a great way to attract new members, but also to establish a genuine sense of community in our group. And as a gay man in a world where marriage equality seems inevitable only a few short years after it seemed impossible, I’ll someday have to choose my name, his name, or a strained attempt at something in between.
But as I learned in Alaska, the power of names doesn’t end there.
If you were fortunate enough to catch my trilogy on identity last week, you’re already aware that I’m in a state of questioning the role of religion in my life but also feel most Jewish in a state of study and discourse. However, my independent study has a crucial flaw compared to a true student of Talmud: I lack a chaver, a friend, a study partner. Rarely do students study alone–they work in pairs, bouncing ideas from one mind to the other until true learning has been achieved.
I lack a study partner, but thankfully, I have you–and I always welcome comments and discussions, always welcome additional voices filling the blank places of the internet upon which these words encroach.
No matter, the summer has returned in full force. Less than a month ago I graduated with my associate degree and in two months I’ll begin classes at a new college working towards my bachelor’s degree. In the time since I walked across the stage and turned my tassel, I’ve gone to the beach, been a guest at another graduation, spent more time playing video games than I have in the last eight months, and studied over Shavuot and spent some serious time in the study of introspection. All of this has only been preparation for my annual dive into the Pirkei Avot. This year I’m starting chapter three and I hope you’ll follow me on this enlightening journey.
Ten years ago today I became a Bar Mitzvah. Four years ago today I was confirmed. And not only is this weekend my birthday, it is also Shavuot–the birthday of the Torah, the celebration of God giving his word to us, his chosen people, the Jews. It’s said that all Jews were present at Sinai when the Law was given. If that’s the case, it was this day almost four years ago that divinity struck the mundane and carved commandments into stone.
It’s a time for reflection, and if it isn’t, I want it to be. It’s a tradition on Shavuot to study late into the night. At midnight, the sky is said to open for a sixtieth of a breath, barely a split second, and the way into heaven can be seen. These past two or three years I’ve looked, but I’ve been too slow to see it.
Lately I’ve been thinking about me and Judaism. How I realized, some nights ago, that I haven’t been saying the Shema before I go to bed, and that when I do, it hasn’t been as poignant as in the past. How, without religious school, my last constant act of observance has been broken. We don’t go to services so much anymore. We don’t light Shabbat candles. Just last week I played video games all day Saturday without even realizing it was Shabbat. I keep kosher, but by now it’s habitual. And habitual isn’t quite ritual.
Giving is one thing, but getting is another. I enjoy getting presents (who doesn’t?), but sometimes I feel a little heavy when I get stuff… Maybe it felt like a compulsory gift, like it was given without heart? A mandatory procedure, purely bureaucratic. Is a cabinet gift a meaningful moment?
Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.
Anyways, there’s another kind of gift that’s not just meaningful for the one who gave it (or the one who received it), but for many others, a gift that keeps on giving. And that, which you should see coming, is what leads me to being thankful for what I’m thankful for today: Charity.
Lately I’ve been in a sour mood. I’m going to be very honest and very blunt about the reasoning–and this will probably force into this mess the possibility of those I’m angry with seeing this and all that, but I’ve been clear about my anger with them already, so that’d be nothing new–and the reason is close-mindedness and intent to argue.
These both might seem patently vague, and perhaps they are, but I think both of them are cause for frustration, and unalleviated frustration does sow anger. It’s no doubt that I’m angry. I understand this. So do they.
What bothers me is the reason they cite: If I’m opposed, it’s not worth the time to talk about. Or if I’m inclined to agree, they want to play devil’s advocate.
It’s not often I speak specifically of my beliefs (mostly on account of not truly knowing the words to speak of them rightly most of the time), but today warrants it. I considered letting this day pass lightly, not saying anything but perhaps passing a shrug and a snicker, but as I was doing dishes tonight (please review A is for Action) it occurred to me that not speaking is, in the end, being silent.
And as my contemporaries would say, “You can’t make me silent with violence” (Anna Nalick, “Break Me Open”) and “I will not go quietly! I will not be silenced” (Company of Thieves, “Won’t Go Quietly”). So in their footsteps I follow: No threats will stop me. No words will weaken me. I will not stand silent. I will not stand still.
Those saying the world will end. Well, I take that as a threat.
But philosophy’s abstract and some days you feel like hitting the ground hard. Today’s one of those days. I’m high in the sky but waiting to land, and although my mind’s awhirl with all sorts of things, I want to hold tightest to those I hold tightest to.