My Year of Recreation

By which I mean, re-creation.

I realized recently that I’ve allowed myself to stagnate. I felt somehow I had finished developing as a person–I knew I would never stop growing, but I assumed there were things I had figured out, things that were finally fixed.

Like perhaps I’m a paint by numbers, and while there were still a lot of spaces waiting to be filled in, I had the core of the picture complete. I knew who I was.

That is, at least, until I didn’t.

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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.

O Chanukah

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.

Yet here I am, and here’s Chanukah. What to do?

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Unravelling the Fabric

I once wrote about prayer. I said, in four words, don’t pray for me. Apparently two students missed the memo, because right as I took a bite into my lunch yesterday (sitting on a bench outside, enjoying the weather while I read a news story about McCutcheon vs. the FEC) two young men walked up to me and asked where I’d gotten my jacket.

Except–like last time–I knew at once it was a cover. I swallowed my mouthful, “Why, Beta Brand, of course,” I said, and waited for the inevitable questions about faith and God and all the fabric of the universe in between: “May we pray for you?”

Oh, what’s a man to do?

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Sexy

Sometimes I lie.

I was walking across campus–I leave for Alaska in 36 hours, and with advising, doctor’s appointments, and laundry to do, I know precisely where all my time must go–when I was approached by a woman handing out flyers for an event tonight.

“Have you heard about the Sexperiment?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Could you tell me more about it?”

Except I had heard about it.

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Duck Duck Goose

By now you’ve probably heard about Duck Dynasty and the whole A&E fiasco. Phil Robertson made some offensive comments in an interview, almost (but not definitively) equating homosexuality with bestiality, and then A&E promptly put him on indefinite hiatus, saying the network supports the LGBT community. All well and good, I suppose. It hardly seems any bit different than what happened to Paula Dean over the summer. Fair enough.

In all honesty, the decision means very little to me: I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty and I don’t watch A&E in general. But I woke up this morning and started perusing through Facebook, and I gotta say: The news is everywhere. And if my informal observations are anything to argue from, you might be surprised at what I saw.

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Hope in Evolution

I’ve been reading through my archives in preparation for relaunching my blog next month, and paging through my personal history has been both trying and inspiring. At its most basic, it feels insurmountable, and with posts averaging about 1200 words each and over 350 posts, that’s a wall of 0.4 million words to read through, all while balancing committee duties, education, and personal wellness goals.

However, it’s been amazing to watch the evolution of my writing quality from month to month, which has given me hope my blog will continue to improve as time moves on–especially after it’s been visually and thematically remastered in the coming weeks. It has also reminded me of some often forgotten ideas that could continue to bring light into my life if I take my own words, said so long ago, to heart now.

Most amazing of all is how, given time, my words of yesterday have grown into blossoming trees today.

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The Downside of Duality

I was talking with a friend the other night and lately she’s been going through some hard times. I often find I’m not much help at giving practical help, so I offer only that which I’m able to offer (an obvious tautology that’s somehow necessary to include): So I do what sometimes I do best–I listen and console and support.

As I typed out my last text, taking special care to ensure every letter appeared in the proper place and only once (I’ve dropped my phone a few times; the keyboard’s become a bit fickle), it occurred to me when I typed “See, you’re looking on the bright side already!” that simply saying there is a bright side acknowledges and presupposes the existence of a side in shadow–and when I realized that, let’s just say the world split in two.

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If You Please

This weekend was none other than the 25th annual North Carolina Pride. Actually, the event has been going on all week, but it culminated with the Pride Parade on Saturday. I had the opportunity to go once before, and it was a lot of fun and so sunny all my pictures were washed out from the intense sunlight.

Yesterday it rained.

But in this rain, the festivities went on with a crowd as strong as could be, and after the parade I ended up in a lengthy conversation with a visiting Christian who was shouting to all of us that we were sinners and would all go to hell. I hadn’t realized how significant that encounter had been until I reread today’s teaching.

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To Eat or Not To Eat (Mor Chikin)

Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way.

With those eight words I began the most hotly contested and highly criticized post I have ever written. It garnered more comments across Facebook and WordPress than my last three or four posts combined, and almost all of them were negative–against Chick-Fil-A, against the premise of the post, even against me.

Drawn using Paper by 53 on my Apple iPad.

It’s a big price to pay for a hypothetical, isn’t it? “Maybe” was my first word, soon followed by “perhaps,” and I ended the post with both a question asking for perspectives on the issue–to which I got a lot of responses–and a call to spread the word if they agreed with it. I can guess the word wasn’t spread very far, but maybe that was for the best.

Still, though, the question remains–or does it?

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