Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Gift Of Sight

The Ponevizher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, lost everything he had in the Holocaust. His wife, his children, his colleagues, his students—all perished. When he arrived in Israel in 1940, he stood on the hill overlooking the sparsely populated Zichron Meir neighborhood of Bnei Brak. Undaunted by the tragedies of his past, he pointed at each empty patch of land and proclaimed, “Here will be a yeshiva. Here an orphanage. Here a shul.” His optimism seemed nearly insane: his family and talmidim had been butchered, his life’s work lost, and yet here he was, predicting the establishment of an ambitious new community, entirely from scratch

“You’re dreaming,” R’ Yitzchak HaLevi Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, pronounced.

The Ponevizher Rav responded, “Yes, I am dreaming—but my eyes are open.

The re-established Ponevizh yeshiva eventually became one of the largest in the world, and R’ Kahaneman’s grand visions reality.
It takes a special set of eyes to see in this way. To dream with eyes open is to embrace a different world, a world full of potential. Life offers more when seen through these eyes.

Try. And suddenly see that there in the dark lurk hidden wonders—secrets and mysteries, adventures and possibility. They wait to be found, to be shared. The streets glimmer with promise, a red neon sign blinks in the vast distance like Gatsby’s green light across the bay. The water is still, mermaids dream beneath its depths.

Walk a little way through the silent paths of the park. Stop before a mound in the dim. To some it may appear to be just a big rock, but these eyes see a tiny, tiny mountain, waiting for discovery. Perspective shifts, greatness unveiled.

Sitting atop this tiny mountain, master of an invisible kingdom, thoughts crowd a mind intent on truth. These eyes perceive intellectual potential as well—they recognize that no issue has been predetermined, nothing is black and white. There may be a prescribed position, limits as seemingly concrete as the stone on which you sit, but these eyes pierce diamonds. Cutting with precision, they seek and consider each of the gem’s many faces. Only with an appreciation of each can Truth be found, a whole that shimmers with blinding light.

In the process of contemplation comes a knowledge that spreads inwards; it is a self-knowledge, and these eyes see the bubbling wellsprings of potential that simmer inside you. They recognize God-given abilities and talents, and they encourage dreams that expand these gifts, taking them as high and as far as your 6-year-old, 13-year-old, idealistic 21-year-old self ever hoped to fly. These eyes understand that it is your right—no, obligation—to set out to achieve these dreams, to pursue them with unending determination and perspicacity. They ask, they nag, they push and prod: what have you done to further your dreams today?

The shell that encases, the world’s outer layer, sometimes disappoints. There are shallow moments, thoughtless moments, moments of fear and hatred. Yet beneath it all the sparkle, the glitter. Wear away at that dull lacquer, scratch and hack and break through. This sight impels you to change, not just to observe. What the world thinks, what everyone does, what does it matter? You see the potential for growth—in yourself, in society. Do not give in.

Because here on this mountain you are not alone. An individual, yes, but part of a community, never entirely apart. Who is the one who sits beside you? Some may see jeans, a black skirt, the wrong kind of kippa, hair too short, hair too long—but these eyes see just a person, striving for truth. A person, hurt and confused, elated and inspired, alone, a part of an army. These eyes penetrate, they delay, they do not judge. The surface is not the essence. These eyes see beyond.

The sun begins to rise, and from this vantage point you watch the light reaching out with gentle fingers to touch a single small house on a distant hill. Cream colored with honey-brown trim and a shingled roof; the sun glints off the dormer window, bathing bright flowers lining the cobbled path to its door in a warm golden liquid. This house is more than a house. It stores dreams, preserving them in the face of cold reality, holding them safe against a biting wind. From where you are, with these eyes, you can always see this house—it never disappears.

No matter your age, it is not too late. These eyes never grow blind nor lose their keenness--unless you make that choice. So hold on. If you believe with the tenacity of a child, you will never relinquish this sight—and you will show others how to see with these eyes; you will open hidden doors they would never have known were there. Someone who does this, who shows you the secrets, the reserves of hidden potential in the world, in yourself—such a person has given you a gift beyond compare. That person is a lifegiver; and no matter how far away—in years, in miles—that person cannot be forgotten.

Yet, this sight is not just a gift, but a responsibility. It is not always easy, straining your eyes to see in this way. It demands a lot, an impossible amount: you may not rest, you may never accept. Sometimes you may fail, sometimes the world may return to a gray—but still you press on, trying again, living for the flashes, the knowledge of a more vivid reality. And though the lightning might shock for just one white moment before exposing the trees to a renewed darkness, the memory of that light allows life to creep in, even to the midst of a seemingly impenetrable fog.

So go ahead: dream with eyes open. Hold on to the things that matter most, the people who matter most, the view that spreads the world into a valley before you, majestic in its scope, boundless in its potential. I give you this blessing today: that you may see and never wish to hide, that you may strive and continually discover new reserves of hidden energy, that you may be productive and hopeful--and that your vision may always stay clear.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Questioning A Passion

Is there an inherent validity to a passion, a talent?

If there is something I love to do, but it is not deeply meaningful in an obvious way, do I have the right to pursue it? Is it right to devote huge amounts of time and energy to an activity simply because I enjoy it, because it excites me in a unique way, because it is a side of myself I don't often get to hone? Or is succumbing to such a passion merely a weakness, if that activity is not as significant as other things I could be doing with my time?

What is the point of hobbies, in general? Is there a point? Are they a waste of time?

Am I selfish for wanting this so much, despite the inevitable sacrifices?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

An Awful Epiphany

Why do I write? What's the point? Really--what's the point? I'm actually asking.

It's a passion that has begun to consume me more and more--the desire to write, to paint scenes, emotions with words. Fiction remains the hardest medium for me. Personal essays (like some of the things I write on this blog) and, more recently, somewhat decent poetry are not as painful to produce. And I'm working on several short stories that may have potential.

Tonight I was confronted with a terrifying reality: my father, who has extensive experience with writing and publishing, read some of my recent work. He pronounced it surprisingly good. I asked him: what next? Write a novel, he said. I blanched. I can barely complete a short story--a novel is not going to happen anytime in the near future.

So I asked more insistently: how can I get my poems or short fiction published? He reluctantly imparted that, well, there is really very little to be done with such work. Other than The New Yorker and college literary journals, he said. there are very few venues for short stories and poetry.

The New Yorker is almost impossible to get into. Stern doesn't have a literary journal (another sore subject--don't even make me go into it, thinking about it makes me ill). And so I hit--smack--against a sinister, disillusionary wall. There is nowhere to go. All I can do is sit here.

So I ask again: why bother writing? Writing gives me pleasure, true, but I do not want my writing to be a nice hobby, something to occupy spare hours, documents to gather dust buried in computer folders, ever unseen. I want to reach out, I want to share. I want my writing to live.

I feel sick. My dreams trampled, spattered across the floor. My inspiration flees, whimpering, to hide in a cobwebbed corner. I churn out melodramatic metaphors with reckless abandon. I don't even care how badly written this post is. I'm flailing.

Why write?

There was a time when writing mattered, when dreams were attainable, when I felt safe in the knowledge that if I could produce decent work, it would eventually serve its purpose. I learned to believe this at a time in my life when many doors were opening. Subsequently, things changed, some of the doors began to swing closed, yet I held on tenaciously to the optimistic beliefs that a hopeful time had fostered, trying to stay true to the ideals I had learned.

But now I feel crushed. It was folly, foolishness, unforgivable naivete to believe that all I had to do was write. And now--I feel as though I dare not write, I dare not waste more precious hours in grueling, ecstatic labor only to produce work that will die unfulfilled.

Tonight, I am not a writer. Tonight, I am only a girl without a plan, without marketable skills, without a purpose. I have a headache. I quit.