Monday, January 23, 2006

Scenes From #6

In the last row, three teenagers are talking too loud. Headphones, probably blaring a hip-hop number, peek out of pierced ears: maybe that’s why they talk so loud; then again, maybe they just want to be heard.

In front of them, a little girl sitting on her mothers lap looks across the aisle at a soldier with a gun sitting on his lap. He gives her a tired smile; she buries her face in her mothers shoulder. He turns away to look out the window.

A middle-aged woman with a purse in her lap and pursed lips on her face takes impatient glances at her watch, trying with no obvious success to speed things up.

Watching her watching her watch is an older man with a knowing smile on his face. It seems he too once tried moving things along quicker than necessary. I wonder if the pursed woman will be sitting here a little further down the road, a knowing smile on her face.

The older man with the knowing smile on his face reaches up to push the “stop” button. It appears that he has reached the end of the road. This is his stop. He looks around one last time, still smiling. Maybe he is remembering all the roads he has traveled. He says, “Excuse me”, and walks off into the unknown.

As he ends his journey, two little children begin theirs. Innocent faces, neither wizened by experience nor scarred by failure, press their eager noses against the glass, taking in all the sites like a sponge takes in water. The purity of their presence seems to affect the others and even the teenagers in the back row turn down the volume.

Closer to the front, a woman in a big sweater is nodding off. No one sits near her and the unpleasant odor emanating from her direction seems to be why. Plastic bags of many colors surround her feet as if she were planted there, in a bed of bags. These bags seem to be full, but bags full are usually full with nothing. Then again: how would I know? (Even the narrator cannot judge the subjects of this ride, no matter how objective he claims to be, lest he judge incorrectly. All he can do is observe and tell.)

A studious young man, at least his glasses and balding head portray him as such, is consumed in the pages of his book. Will he ever realize that he must stop reading in order to start writing? Probably. But sometimes it easier to read than it is to write.

An arrogant twenty-something year old scribbles pompously on the back of a sacred text. Will he ever realize that he must stop writing in order to start reading? Probably. But sometime it easier to write than it is to read.

Right in front of me sits the man behind the wheel. Stopping at a red light. Going at a green one. Letting passengers on. Letting passengers off. He clicks a ticket. He counts out some change. He exchanges some words. He is just another person along for the ride, just another indispensable part of the puzzle – albeit with a wheel in his hand and a pedal under his foot. But then don’t we all have a wheel in our hand and a pedal under our foot?

Then of course there I am, a rare-view mirror observing the comings and goings of bus number six. I am just hanging here, relating a tale of life. Oh, but wait, over there, near the rare doors, an interesting group of people have just…

So it goes, on and on – or, on and off. And as the wheels keep on turning, the driver sees me observing, and knowing what I’m thinking, he gives me a wink.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

What’s Your Name?

Crack. A whip rips at your back. Still you don’t change your name. You feel the blood pouring out of yet another open scar. Still you don’t change your name. Your broken nails try in vain to lay a brick. Still you don’t change your name. Ankles rubbed raw from chains too tight. Still you don’t change your name. Cracked cheeks sting from your salty tears. Still you don’t change your name. Your son thrown into the river. Still you don’t change your name. Your daughter made to live like them. Still you don’t change your name. No, you will never change your name.

And we go through the daily routine, confined to petty detail, limited by our (im)possibilities, restricted to our naiveté. We awake to the same alarming ring; drink the same coffee, black with a shot of espresso; fold the same newspaper; pass the same people; catch the same train; work the same hours; talk to the same friends; ignore the same foes; read the same books; write the same checks; eat the same supper (or, maybe mix things up – go out to eat, though probably to the same restaurant); waste the same time; bored with the same things. Or, if you were a “pioneer”, you might do it all differently: awake to a different alarming ring; drink a different coffee, milk and two sugars; catch the next train; work overtime… And no matter how different you are, no matter how many sugars you use to sweeten your coffee, your life still remains bitter – like the Egypt of yesterday, the Egypt of today is a “life of bitterness”.

How does one escape a cyclonic cycle (psycle?) – does one just peddle away? Or, maybe this is the ultimate, a life restricted yet predictable: yes, you are stuck in a bind, but at least you won’t float away; true, you are tied in do-knots, but at least you won’t trip on a rebellious shoe lace.

One famous Jew, a Mr. Zimmerman, once said, “The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn’t Henry Porter”. Names are all we have to go on. The only way to relate – or relate to – an idea, thing, emotion, is by naming it. If a something remains nameless, then it remains reticent as well: a thing unnamed is a thing unapproachable, and, therefore, reproachable.

Essence, on the other hand, cannot be named – if it could, it wouldn’t be Essence. Though it is the source – indeed, because it is the source – it remains aloof, untouched by terminologies, languages, lexicons, or any other anthropological (or illogical) terms. Essence can therefore never be contaminated – it is beyond those petty daily routines.

“These are the names of the Children of Israel that came to Egypt”. As a child, I could never understand how the second of the Five Books Of Moses, Shmos (Hebrew for Names) etymologized into Exodus – one is referring to the enslavement of the Jewish People, while the other is referring to their “exodus”?

The first line of Shmos says it all: “These are the names… that came to Egypt”. Only a part of the Jew descended into the limitations of Egypt, (in Hebrew, the word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, finds the same root as Maytzar, boundary, as in restriction.) namely: their names – only an external, albeit vital, part of them. However, the Divine Spark, the Essence, never even descended into the parochial Egypt, and therefore can never be mummified by some Egyptian bondage (!).

But if one were to exit Egypt the way one entered, with no essential change, then wherein lies the purpose of the whole ordeal – if no ascent, why the descent? Ah, yes, of course: though names are certainly not Essence, they most definitely are Essential, and can therefore furnish Essence with something it does not “possess” on its own – overcoming obstacle, turning dark into light, throwing off the chains of Egypt.

This named ability – to change routine and, consequently, Essence itself – stems from the pure Essence never exiled, while (because and besides the fact that it is rooted at the source) branching out to all things named.

Thus, “essentially”, both Shmos and Exodus are connected (Shmos however is a word of The Holy Tongue, and must therefore microcosmically encompass all of the Book Of Shmos, with no room for error on any level): by the Jews not changing their “names” to Egyptian ones (imagine Pharaoh Goldstein or Potifar Rosenberg), by their remaining true to their expression of self, by remaining pure not only internally but externally as well, the Exodus was brought about.

And today, every moment of our lives we strain against the bonds of Egypt (you think there’s a middle-eastern investment firm, Egyptian Bonds?), trying to bust out of the status quo so that we can take all things named and make them essential. That is the name of the game – tapping into your Essence so that you can hold on to your Name.

So… Hi, What’s your name?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Surrounded By Possibilities

The walls are surrounded. We have no hope of escaping the city; the city has no hope of escaping destiny. Destruction is inevitable; it is but the beginning of the end. I can see the enemy fires burning in the near distance. Thousands of their soldiers are silently laughing, reminds me of a movie. Panic spreads overhead like an overcast sky. The future is as bright as thunder; the streets are as noisy as lightning. Black smoke billows from everywhere (destruction is always accompanied by black smoke). Stone that once looked like gold bricks in the setting of the sun now looks like gray flesh in the setting of siege. The walls have not been breached – no, the enemy is using them as a coffin, burying us alive. Soon the food will run out. Parents will start eating their children; children will start begging to be eaten. Some say we should leave the walls and fight; some say we should pray; some say we should put the swords to our necks; some say we should turn the swords into plowshares – or at least into pens. We cannot even agree to disagree; we are broken into a million little pieces. They say our division is the reason for our destruction, and, therefore, our unity would be the reason for our resurrection – but no one seems to see it that way: we’d rather be right than alive.

And here we are, once again imitating history. Confined to our walls are we, surrounded by falsehoods. There is but little hope of escaping this darkness. Destruction seems to be upon us; it looks like the end is approaching. Is that an overcast sky? Or maybe an undercast earth? Are we living in a bad dream, a nightmare perhaps, where the lightening bolts blind our eyes and the thunder claps leave blood poring from our ears? It is very cold, I think, and we are bitten by the frost. And we still do not realize that two people can look at the same thing and see it differently. The world is freezing to death, while we are busy arguing who should light the fire; people are dying from thirst, while we fight for the distribution rights. We are of one body – we use are left arm to sever our right. Does the Left not feel the pain of the Right? Does the Right not feel the pain of the Left? Are with this immune, this indifferent to our own selves? And still the walls are surrounded.

But then I sit by a Shabbat table, where so many different backgrounds step into the common foreground. I see a child drop a coin into a shaking cup. A Rabbi puts Tefilin on his brother, almost in slow motion, really. A stranger helps a woman with her baby carriage. A backpack-yielding student gives her seat to a cane-yielding grandfather. A wizened old man, with a green tattoo on his arm, smiles. A rebellious teenager channels his energy into a book that possesses the meaning of life. He questions everything; sometime he finds answers, sometimes answers find him – either way, he’s alive. Moments of truth are momentous – and they are everywhere.

We just have to open our eyes.

Suddenly it doesn’t seem like we are surrounded anymore. All that was once destroyed is now being rebuilt. Foe is becoming friend; challenge is becoming possibility; dream is becoming reality –

And in reality we are all one, because, in truth, there is but one reality.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Snowflakes pass me by –
Like the years of my life.
Snow flurries fall to the ground –
Like youthful expectations.

Snowballs are molded –
Like innocent minds.
Snowmen are sluggish –
Like men of flesh and blood.

Snowstorms bury the dirt –
Like beautiful bodies.
Snowplows uncover it –
Like moments of truth.

Snow iced by the cold –
Like frozen hearts.
Snow melted by the sun –
Like delicate souls.

Snowhite waiting for her prince –
Like the children of Israel.
Snowledge of G-d will cover the earth –
Like the waters cover the sea.