Monday, April 30, 2007

Not my space

[Written Sunday April 29th aboard flight 30 ]

Way too early this morning, my constant state of travel led me to yet another gate. The journey was a long one, laden with uninteresting airport artwork, tired faces, and the faint humming of smooth jazz. An all-nighter had me feeling sedated, and I couldn't wait to sit down. When I finally arrived at A14, I scoped out the crowded scene.

As usual, there was no available seat.

I mean, sure there were seats. But, you know how it is. It's always those single standing seats in between the already-situated people. Those seats that require you go and make yourself all cozy next to a total stranger. Or there are two seats, which isn't any better because you're still going to have to sit buddy-buddy with someone, only this time you have to choose which one. The apex of comfortable flight-waiting is the sighting and subsequent usurping of three seats in between people. Then you're guaranteed a good amount (at least one seat's worth) of space in between you and your neighbors.

I was one such lucky lady this morning. I found that spot, alright. And with the luxury of healthy breathing space at least four feet in all directions, I was sitting pretty.

I had about three good minutes to enjoy my status before the sweet voice of an older man brought my gate-waiting heaven to a screeching halt.

"Excuse me, Miss. May I sit here?"

Despite the inner sense of victory I was experiencing prior to his arrival, I was quick to respond, relatively painlessly, with an "of course!" He took his seat, and, surprisingly, life resumed as normal. I picked up my book and started to read. But, really, I was thinking.

This sweet man needed a seat and had probably chosen me as the least awkward proposition. I looked around at the classic scene of Seattle's organic woman, depressed youngsters, and shy Asians. On second thought, I was definitely this man's least awkward seating proposition.

The more I thought, the more silly I felt for having made calculations that left me feeling high about a mere seat. And more than that, I didn't feel comfortable with the fact that this man felt he had to ask me to sit down. The seat was much more his than it was mine. I didn't want the man feeling like he had infringed on my space.

I thought about the unwritten rule we all seem to live by: that everyone on earth owns a certain amount of space in their immediate vicinity. It suddenly felt ridiculous. "My space" is a site for your personal homepage, not a mindset that makes you feel as though you have rights to the air around you.

I noticed he was sitting a little tight. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, and held a newspaper folded in his hands. He was not in my definition of a comfortable flight-waiter.

I had to say something. Being a former seat-and-space monger and now freshly repented, I wanted him to know that it's normal for him to sit there, and that I felt no entitlement to the seat he was now seated in. Most of all, after thinking about it for so long, I wanted to expose the silliness inherent in the seating-choice-fiasco we all seem to succumb to.

"It's funny," I say, "We're all about to sit shoulder to shoulder on the place, but we act like it's the end of the world to sit right next to each other out here."

He chuckled, thought about it, and responded, "That's so true."

After relaxing his shoulders, he opened his paper ((no, it wasn't Men's Health, it was The Seattle Times) and sat back in his seat, totally at ease. Mission accomplished.

I looked around the waiting area. We were the only two people who were sitting right next to each other. I was happy to have been given the chance to let go of the entitlement I felt to the inches around me.

It was now boarding time. Crammed in between people of shared space, I slowly approached my happy home for the next five hours - but of course, the middle seat.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My Favorite Things (Age 13)

Seven years ago, a child named Mimi sat bored in class. Instead of pretending to pay attention, she decided to do something she felt was more productive.

She took out a pen and paper and wrote at the top, "THESE ARE SOME OF MY FAVORITE THINGS."

The year is now 2007, and Mimi has just rediscovered the list while cleaning her room.

She paused, and was very touched by this young child's list. Her list. A list that, if written again today, would be quite different.


- Summer

- Shopping

- Hanging out with friends

- Writing

- Walking barefoot on green grass

- Days off of school - 3 day weekends

- Looking out the window one morning and finding snow

- A movie on a rainy day

- Listening to music while lying down to relax

- Sleeping Zzzz...

- Waking up to find out you can go back to bed

- Opening the windows and getting under your covers

- Finishing a good book

- Dancing

- Presents

- Money $

- Getting mail (opening a big package!)

- Taking a nap in the middle of the day

- Getting an A+ on a test

- Knowing all the answers

- Finding something valuable I lost a year ago

- Finding money on the street

- Winning a raffle

- Mushing shaving cream in my hands

- Getting a baby to be quiet when no one else can

- Making a really nice shot in basketball

- Putting a needle in a balloon

- A clear blue sky

- Holding a cat that doesn't shed

- A perfect hair day

- New shoes, and more shoes and more shoes...

- The feeling after my clean out all the junk in my room

- Coming home from school with no homework and knowing you have time to read, play basketball, hang out, go online, etc.

- When someone is online who you haven't talked to in a while

- Having a test delayed

- Hanging out and having an amazing time with your two favorite people and everyone gets along

- Going to bed early and waking up happy and ready to go!

- Counting down the days to something special

- Waking up sick and being allowed to stay home from school

- Resting during class, next to the window

- Getting paid after babysitting

- Having clothes in my closet with tags on them

- Drinking cold water after sweating from running/exercising

- Having someone make you a fancy breakfast

- A hot shower on a cold morning

- Getting a call from a friend when I am sick

- A clean locker

- Cleaning my room before I go to bed, and I waking up having forgotten the room is clean and opening my eyes and everything is nice.


At this point, class must have been over.

But if the bell had not rung, perhaps Mimi would have added one more thing to the list: Being a kid, and reveling in simplicities of life before I get older.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Away with Answers

Dedicated to tears and the preservation of insanity

Tragedy brings with it questions that are like wind on a stormy day.

They are violent.

In their ruthlessness, they demand an answer that would make sense of this all.

But I don't want to live in a world that has answers to this, that has reasons.

I know what I want.

I know what I want.

Meanwhile, answers just try to make this all okay.

But it's not okay. answers.

Everything sane would become insane, and the insane would then be sane.

An answer would make a stage, a satire performed to turn us all into puppets.

Trying to make sense of what never will.

And if it will, then it makes sense.

Then, it's not senseless.

All of a sudden, it's fine.

Are you happy now?

Now you can sleep a little better?

Is that what we need after this? People sleeping better?

You know what my question is?

When will we all throw up our hands and let go?

Why can't we just go back in time?

When will we just say it like it is, and call it senseless?

No one wants an answer that looks to explain this.

Excuses. Excuses.

There is no explanation.

That's why I'm crying.

Can't you see that I'm crying?

Would my eyes be red if this made sense?

Would my nights be sleepless if this your answers were all I needed?

You will not give me a reason for tragedy.

There is no reason in tragedy. There is no reason in tragedy. There is no reason in tragedy.

My comfort is that this doesn't make sense.

If it doesn't make sense, then it doesn't have a place in this world.

If it doesn't make sense, it will feel a little less comfortable coming by.

Don't make it comfortable by asking for a reason.

When you ask this question, you open the door to tragedy and you offer it some tea.

But pain will not pull up a chair in my house.

Don't tell me this belongs in the world.

Don't you dare tell me that this belongs in the world.

Stop trying to answer something that doesn't belong.

I am fine knowing that this is not wrapped in a blanket of reasons.

I would evaporate in the attack of answers.

I am better, for there is no answer.

And they are worse for thinking there is one.


Some things in this world need to remain insane.

Let's not trample the aliveness we have to injustice.

We don't need answers to turn pain and confusion away from a place where they belong.

The treacherous path of questions should be traveled with caution.

Or else, we may just find ourselves making sense of the senseless.

We might find ourselves forgetting what we really want.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gone with the Wind

[Written on a Hilltop, March 19th, 2006]

It was a sunny but windy evening here in Tfas today - the "Spirit (ruach) City" was alive. Our balcony facing the mountains extended a strong invitation to host my Mincha prayers. Before beginning, I sat for a while with my Siddur on my lap. I closed my eyes and positioned my face so that it was directly in the wind's stampede.

My pre-Mincha moment turned into a sort of wind-meditation. My thoughts turned to nothing and the wind entered the hollow place in my relaxed mind. In a way, I became one with the wind.


The wind moves consistently in one direction. It will slow down, but never turn around suddenly and reject its path. It is unafraid in its mission, confident with its actions.

The wind has its own mission, but wraps up everyone it meets in its delight and enthusiasm. It won't keep things to itself.

The wind sustains others in the most natural and essential way, but without asking for credit. It breathes life and comfort and peace into the inhabitants of its atmosphere without the feeling of self-sacrifice.

The wind never discriminates. It will catch you if it can, and won't swerve in the other direction to avoid you if it doesn't like your attitude.

Every subject is unique and vital in the eyes of the wind. It will give equally to all, caressing everything that lies in its path.

Every barrier is absorbed by the wind, and it doesn't need to stop and cry or throw a fit. It pushes forward with grace, accepting its new course with renewed excitement.

The wind can get strong, but it never hurts. It makes a sweet whistling noise when it's in a rage, and its sternness is most effective with its subtlety.

The wind is always there, but never calls attention to itself. When the wind is most present, we see it in the trees, the leaves, and the people - the life around it that it touched and changed. In fact, when the wind is in its prime, we see it everywhere - except in the wind itself. And exactly when its imprint is seen on "others," it is called by its name.


The learning here has enlivened a unity that is constantly giving me the insight to take true inspiration from nature. I'm humbled by the many teachers that G-d implanted in this world. They are infinite. A person in G-d's home is never separated from learning, internalizing, emulating.

The wind was strong today but it gently whispered in my ear, "Come with me." I responded by opening my Siddur and praying. I could almost see my words dancing away with the breeze, forever entwined with the wind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Nation in Prayer

[This is a video that features pictures, students speaking, and the Presidents words.]

Yesterday's massacre at Virginia Tech was one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

Thirty two people - students and professors - died at the hands of a raging young Asian student. The whole country is in a state of shock. The news reports and pictures are heart wrenching, the questions and surmounting, the pain tangible.

Enter President Bush.

In the midst of it all, he addresses the nation with one goal - to comfort the families, to comfort the students, to comfort America.

In such fragile times, our sincerity and efforts are challenged. Our words are chosen carefully. But, President Bush knew what to say. With conviction and sincerity, he addressed the students and families of the victims. He said the following words that reverberated through America and served as the heart of his short appearance:

“Laura and I and many across the nation are praying for the victims, and their families and all the members of the university community that have been devastated by this terrible tragedy." The President closed by saying, "We hold the victims in our hearts, we lift them up in prayer, and we ask a loving G-d to comfort those who are suffering today."

The President's words touched everyone, regardless of religion or political bent. It is what everyone needed to hear - "You are in our prayers."

When we go through hard times and need some extra support, almost nothing anyone says strikes a chord and sounds meaningful. People talk more than they need to. They try to answer questions. They helplessly offer their help.

In the barrage of attempts at comfort, there are those that offer those few words that are the arrow in the bull’s-eye, the words that always seem necessary, helpful, and comforting.

Those words are the following: I'll be praying for you.

Upon hearing them, our heart is a little lighter, even just one small step away from falling apart.

But why? Why does prayer seem so powerful? Especially when the effect of peoples' prayers isn't always so clear to us, why do we find solace in knowing that someone is praying with us in mind? What about these words is so comforting?

The conversations we have with G-d are our most intimate, honest, and real. The idea that someone else prays for you is the most meaningful sentiment because it means that deep in the hearts of the people around you, you exist in their most sacred conversation. It means that you appear in an encounter that is often highlighted by a person’s own personal dilemmas and pain.

When you are on the lips of people praying, dancing on the air that goes straight to G-d, you know that you don't have to tighten your shoulders and muster up the strength all by yourself. The world knows your falling, and they're asking G-d to help lift you up.

When it was time to address the students of Virginia Tech directly, the Presidents words were more eloquent. President Bush informed the students, saying, "People of every faith have lifted you up in prayer. People who have never met you are praying for you. They're praying for your friends who have fallen and are injured. There is a power in these prayers, a real power.”

In addition to his own words, the president read a letter from a V-Tech student, beseeching of his fellow students and neighbors to “ache on behalf of those people that had lost a loved one.”

When we're in pain, we don't always want the whole world to be aching, too. But sometimes, when they ache for us, the pain is a little less sharp. And when we direct that cry upwards, we are all lifted, and the future looks a little less daunting.

Knowing that we exist in someone else personal conversation with their Maker reminds us that we're all connected and look towards the same thing to replenish our strength, and there is nothing more healing than that.


[ Click here and scroll down to see a profile of one of the victims, Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who was a professor at V-Tech. On Holocaust Remembrance day, he died protecting his students ]

Monday, April 16, 2007

A man named Skyler

We were on the wrong train.

Back from Rabbi Jacobson's Wednesday night class in the city, the late night subway changes had caught me and my brother off guard. We were on the number three train which usually stops at Kingston. But it was not stopping there tonight. We were told that the four was, so we knew we had to switch trains. So, fine. Simple. Train stops. We exit. We wait on platform. The four train arrives. We get on. We resume journey.

That is until we realized that this train was going uptown, the opposite direction of where we needed to go. We must have been tired or lost in conversation, and just naturally taken the next train that arrived without looking. The time in between stops is very long at this hour. We were a little giddy, and my brother started saying out loud in a mock cry for help, "Nooo...we're on the wrong train, we're on the wrong train..."

I laughed and looked around. There were only a few people left in the subway car, and all of them looked totally lifeless.

Except one guy who suddenly piped up from his nestled position in the corner. He was an older black man. With eyes wide and his voice strong but delicate, he said, "You on da right train."

We were eager to hear those words. Saadya responded, "Yea? We're on the right train?"

"Yea, man," said the black man confidently, “The shul. Get off at the next stop, then switch to the four downtown. You’re goin' to seven seventy.” It was not a question, but a statement.

We smiled and got closer to the man.

Saadya asked, "You knew the Rebbe, ah?"

"Knew the Rebbe?” the man questioned Saadya’s wording, "I know the Rebbe.”

Saadya quickly extended his hand and asked him his name.

His name was Skyler. He shook Saadya's hand naturally, without hesitating.

Saadya inquired, "How do you know the Rebbe?"

"We used to go for dollars. We were close. Sure, I know the Rebbe.”

He said it like, How can you not know the Rebbe?

He continued, “I got the Rebbe's picture with me everywhere."

And with that, he whipped out his wallet, and went searching. By this time, Saadya had his arm around the sweet older man, both squeezed on the double seat near the sliding doors. Skyler, who had returned Saadya's gesture and had his arm around him as well, went flipping through his I.D., business cards, and all sorts of things that came flying out, with no picture of the Rebbe.

He didn't seem to notice that all his stuff was flying. He was on a mission.

"It's here..." he was saying as he frantically searched, "it's here alright..."

And indeed, it was. After both his and Saadya's lap were laden with all sorts of wallet belongings, Skyler emerged from his hunt with a yellow Moshiach card, with the Rebbe's smiling face and waving hand.

Skyler had a very nonchalant air about him, but was excited to show the small and slightly wrinkled picture of a man he clearly knew and admired. He smiled proudly for a picture before he had to leave.

I believe he called Saadya “brutha” as he left - a term that, for once, seemed particularly fitting. As the train started moving and I could still see Skyler making his way out of the platform, I realized that Skyler had been wearing something that didn't strike me as popular in his community - a black hat.

When we got off the train, I had tears in my eyes. I turned to Saadya and said, "We were definitely on the right train."

A rare glimpse into the Rebbe's unique following is very recharging. It takes some unique reminders to realize that the Rebbe had an influence far greater than, not only his immediate surrounding, but, his seemingly specific community. The Rebbe's leadership raises the bar for what's surprising or seemingly out of place. As we learned that night, it's not all that crazy to feel close to the Rebbe, even if you happen to be a quirky-late-night-subway-riding-black-man named Skyler.

[ The Skyler action shots ]

Friday, April 13, 2007

Twenty One

Spring - and blooming into 21

A year ago tonight, I sat at a bonfire on a Tzfas hilltop surrounded by friends and celebrating my twentieth birthday. I was concluding my six month stay in Tzfas, an experience that was animated with truth and beauty that changed my eyes forever. I felt the whole world unraveling before me.

That week, I wrote in a letter home:

I felt like this was my first birthday ever, the beginning of my life. It's amazing to stand in the same place that you were exactly a year ago but have a completely different inner and outer reality, seeing the world and others in a completely new light.

Since then, I've had more rich experiences - working with and for the more incredible people, being presented with unbelievable growth opportunities, making new friendships, traveling, learning, and most recently, moving into a fourth floor apartment, where I map out the rest of my life, everyday.

I never felt entitled to expect that this past year's experiences would become as treasured to me as the the year prior. The appreciation is abundant.

And now, once again, the world is unraveling before me.

I can hear Hashem whispering, "Stay tuned, Mimi."

This birthday, I thank Hashem for the gift of inspiration, and the blessing of being able to see and feel that every new year - and even day - is the beginning of the rest of my life.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ugly on Kingston

Marching down Kingston Ave

About a week and a half before Pesach, I was walking down Kingston Avenue when I saw the most dreadful sight.

I mean, you don't always see girls this ugly.

Her hair was frizzy and tied back in a messy bun. Hey eyes were crusty and lifeless. She had red cheeks, chapped lips, and a disgruntled look on her face to match her dull and almost limped walk.

It's a wonder how a girl like this gets married.

Trust me, I have a right to say this.

Besides, if you saw her, you would have thought the same.


What I saw that day walking down Kingston was my reflection in the window of Apple Drugs.

Only a short ten days before my ticket back to Seattle, I was hit with a brutal flu. You know, the kind where you call your mother crying because you think you're dying a slow death. All my muscles ached and my throat burned (there were some points where I could barely talk). There was a persistent sharp pain in my sinus, and all the nose-blowing in the world wasn't making it any easier to breathe, let alone sleep. To top it off, the fever was dragging me to delirium.

My horrendous symptoms (and a wonderful mother) left me no choice. It was time to go to the Doctor.

Although my own look in the mirror practically had me passed out on the cold tiles of my bathroom, the time had come to leave my germ infested apartment and hit the jam packed streets of Crown Heights in search of the office where my mother had scheduled an appointment.

Kingston Avenue. Center of the Heights. The Ave of eyes. Everyone and no one you know, coming right at you with a fierce speed.

I'm never one to shy away from people. But suddenly, with the present - and very hideous- situation, Kingston Avenue went from being my favorite stroll option to a dangerous jungle I had to run through quickly - or else.

No one was around to walk me to the Doctor, which I had presumed would lessen the trauma of being so ugly in public. I struggled in front of the mirror to assemble some sort of order to my appearance. In this process, I discovered that Chapstick on your nose does wonders after you discover that even the softest tissues can wreak havoc. Suffice to say, I did the little I could to look semi-normal and started my journey to the Doctor, located only a short block away from my apartment.

But I couldn't find the Doctor's office. The delirium I thought I was only approaching had decided to meet me halfway. I called my mother for the exact address. Now, I wasn't only an ugly girl on Kingston. I was lost, on the phone with my mother and walking up and down Kingston way more many times than desired. And my hoarse voice struggling to communicate with my mother was probably scaring children.

Finally, I made it to the Doctors office.

Never has a waiting room been such safe haven.