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.
In my last post, I spoke about the uncomfortable reality of being a non-Christian in a country that mistakenly believes its religious identity (which doesn’t exist) is synonymous with its civic identity. I also alluded to a conversation with a friend who assumed Chanukah is a much bigger deal than it is–but instead of making my misconception corrections then, I decided to make them their own post.
Some may say I’m blowing this out of proportion, but probably I’m not: I feel like the material world has stolen Chanukah. Picked it up in a big red bag, slung it over its shoulder, and made off on a sleigh drawn by a dog with one antler. It makes me lax to light candles, eat latkes, even spin the dreidle.
I had high hopes for Pesach–in fact, I had planned in my head an amazing series of posts in emulation of my week in December covering Chanukah: I had planned to speak about the Seder on Friday evening, about being a slave on Saturday, share a Pesach story on Sunday, talk about freedom on Monday, reminisce about traditional Pesach songs on Tuesday, delve into my personal history of the holiday upon Wednesday, and give thanks today.
As you can see, school has once more kept me away.
It’s not that I haven’t wanted, it’s that I haven’t slept. For nearly the past week, I have run so wild that I have missed deadlines, missed meetings, and missed entire homework assignments by convincing myself I will only sleep for a few minutes before getting out of bed to finish my work and then instead sleeping the entire night. It hasn’t been hell–I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve done, I’ve had plenty of excitement, and I love life in general–but it hasn’t been the happiest time of life. I’ve been critical upon myself, hating myself for my own failures, but unable to figure out how to best pull myself to succeed, how to hold onto everything without letting it all fall.
When we came to North Carolina we spent a few weeks with my aunt while my dad got a job at an apartment complex nearby. Then we moved in. I recall a handful of things here: There was a small group of friends (were they distant cousins?) who loved the show Beetle Boys (or something akin to that) about three kids (I think the middle one was a girl) who somehow gained magical Power Ranger-esque powers to transform into beetle-like fighters with special abilities. I liked the show and I watched it in secret whenever I could so I could play with my friend’s action figures, but my mom didn’t let me watch it and that was the end of that.
I apologise. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, a flamboyant overestimation of my annual feelings. I do not hate Christmas. I don’t quite understand it (forgive my hitherto lack of sensitivity, but if we all know historically Jesus was not born on the solstice, why do so many people still insist–and heartily believe!–he was?), but I do not hate it. More aptly, I hate the commercialization of Christmas, and as one who doesn’t celebrate it, that’s the only part of it I have to deal with on a regular basis. So from my vantage I hate all that’s to be done with Christmas–but that’s only because I’m on the outside, looking in.
There was a time, however, when I did love Christmas.
I worked SOAR yesterday. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but SOAR stands for Student Orientation and Registration. It’s usually pretty fun: I get to see my ambassador friends and usually a couple SGA friends, too, and it’s always fun to hang out with my computer lab buddies. (Isn’t it odd, perhaps, to associate my friends with how I know them? I personally find it natural–after all, I mold myself to the situation, and in some regards to that, to the people I meet in each of them.)
In any case, SOAR is structured. Very structured. At 11:30 we start to set up. By 12:15 we start checking people in: At the table before mine, they’re signed in and given a name tag and their program booklet. Then they move to me. “Good afternoon,” I say, “Welcome to SOAR.” And proceed to hand them a colored folder. I’m very particular with my folders: I arrange nine at a time, in three sets of three shell-shaped structures, laid out like a perfect salesman. I’m very careful to vary my colors, and to not leave any folder on the table too long. Sometimes this means shuffling things around. Other times it means using an entire shell before restocking. It’s formulaic. It’s just like I like it.
And then, when the table before me speeds up just a little, or someone slows down long enough while writing their name, two people come at me at once. “Good afternoon, welcome to SOAR,” I say to the first, handing them a folder while I turn to the second, “Good afternoon, welcome to SOAR.”
Then I realised something: Despite my smile, I wasn’t sincere.
One thing that irks me to no end is going to religious services and instead of being welcomed into a calm air of heartfelt love and prayer, being immersed in an ocean of chatter and discourse. True: Community is integral to any religious congregation, but isn’t the point to find religious fulfillment, not gossip and how-are-you’s?
When our rabbi gently whispers into the microphone, “Shh…,” people listen, take their seats, and soon thereafter such an atmosphere of selfless love is fostered and culminates in the utterance of what I’m most thankful for tonight.