Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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Hineni. Here I Am.

"How are you?"

People often ask that question in passing.

And the so-called socially appropriate response is usually something in the affirmative regardless of the truthfulness of such statement, such as:


"I'm fine."

Then when people ask me how I am doing, I give an answer that mirrors how I am actually feeling that particular day.

Well, I can safely say that I have attracted more than my fair share of raised eyebrows.

What does that then imply about our social norms?

That there was no expectation of a truthful response in the first place.

At best, the question becomes a rhetorical one rather than a real question.

I have always found this to be rather strange. Why even ask the question at all in the first place?

When people ask, "How are you?", they are really, in their own way, acknowledging the person before them, even though they may rush off shortly after imposing the question.

When I was in undergrad, I majored in sociology and fell in love with the story of how members of certain African tribes would greet one another by saying in their local languages, "I see you," which is then met with a response of "I am here."

How more beautiful can that be? Such opening discourse provides for a basic recognition of one another and hints at a deep acknowledgment of the other person at the same time.

This brings to mind one of my favorite Jewish prayers-Hineni-which translates from Hebrew to English to mean, "Here I Am." Hineni goes beyond mere physical presence and implies emotional and mental presence as well.

By truly recognizing the other person before us, we are able to engage at a deeper level beyond such superficial openings. That kind of engagement requires us to be emotionally and mentally receptive to the other person. It is not enough to just be physically present.

Whenever I ask, "How are you?", I am prepared to receive a real answer.

When I am short on time and/or unable to engage at a meaningful level at the moment, I instead say, "I see you."

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Why now?
After all, there are people who have been blogging for decades. So why now?
You study me quizzically as you take another sip.

In fact, you might even regard me a latecomer to the blogging scene.

The truth be told, I have never been the one for small talk. In fact, I can't stand small talk. But I'll talk for hours about life. Life is too short to waste time discussing trivial matters. And whenever given a choice, I would rather be with a close friend or two than among a crowd of people I barely even know. In some social settings though, I have to pretend, and play the small talk game. Some people call it the art of diplomacy.

At this point, I might as well call you a friend. After all, we will cease to be strangers before we know it. The beautiful thing about this arrangement that you and I have is that we don't have to pretend or maintain whatever illusion we want others to have about ourselves.

Last week, I went to my regular counseling session. I resumed seeing a psychotherapist to work through my anxieties and grief after my grandma died. My grandma had been very much like a mother to me in many ways.

As I went through a list of people who died since one of my best friends committed suicide when I was seventeen years old and she only sixteen years old at the time, I told my therapist, "I am in my late 20s and didn't grow up or even live in a war zone. No one I know at my age has had to face so many losses early in life."

In fact, I hesitate getting close to anyone out of fear of losing yet another person that meant something to me. As a result, I unknowingly started to build defenses around me.

My therapist quietly responded, "What you have experienced in life has nothing to do with you at all. These were rather unfortunate events. In fact, we don't even know when we or anyone will die. Instead, all of those people in your life who died actually gave you what perhaps is the biggest gift in your life."

"A gift?" I was incredulous.

"Yes, a gift. A gift of life. They are in fact giving you a gift of empowering you to live your life even more freely by encouraging you to fully accept death as a fact of life. It's just that you have had more practice than some people."

I thought about it. It was certainly something I had never considered previously. But it did make some sense.

After all, us Jews subject ourselves to a total abstention from food and drink every year during the holy day of Yom Kippur. Why would anyone, including myself, in their right minds put their bodies through that?

On Yom Kippur, we are told that G-d decides who will live and who will die in the coming year, and that death could come for any of us. The physical uncomfortableness that we feel by fasting serves as a reminder of our mortality. In fact, Rabbi Jacobs-Velde who compared Yom Kippur to a ritual death of sorts and said, "[Yom Kippur] gives us a way, especially in our culture, where we are so death-denying, to come to terms with what we are doing with our lives." In other words, we are given an opportunity to start over, make amends, and strive to do better.

Then what does it mean to live more freely?

My mind immediately conjured an image of myself when I was a little girl. My father often would take me to the neighborhood park to play. My favorite thing at the park were the swing sets where my dad would push me for hours. I would laugh and ask for my dad to push me harder. I thought if I went high enough one day, I would become a bird and be able to fly to the top of the tree. From the tree tops, I would then watch the world go by. Free. Away from the worldly constraints.

When we are talking about living freely, we are not talking about becoming a bird and being able to fly. We are really talking about living authentically. Again, what does living authentically really mean anyways?

It's a question worthy of examination. There probably will not be a simple answer to that question.

But through our conversations, we can learn from each other.

My grandma, circa 1942

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Let's Meet Up for Coffee!

Wherever you may be in the world, let's meet up for coffee.


You, my dear reader.

Coffee, café au lait, latte, cappuccino, tea, or even hot chocolate. Whatever strikes your fancy.

Because I have a story to share. Mine. And I'd love to hear yours and get to know you as well. In fact, everyone has a story.

We are faced with intersectionalities in life that shape our experiences and therefore makes us the people we are today. At times, we either are put into roles or choose not to allow others to see us for who we truly are.

After all, most of our lives revolve around our interactions with people and how we present ourselves to others.

And we are still getting to know ourselves better all at the same time as we continue to embark on the journey we call life.

We need not to agree on everything, but we can have a peaceful discourse. We can talk about whatever is interesting to us at the moment.

Struggles and joys of parenting. Gender identity. Religion. Global warming. Living simply.

No topic too little or big or even taboo. Things should be discussed openly and in a respectful manner without fear of reprisals. No one should ever have to apologize for having an opinion.

I am not going to lie. I can be rather eccentric at times. I do not presume to have all the answers in life. In fact, I struggle and wrestle with various issues.

Even though we are different people, I have learned over the years that we are really more the same than we think we are different.

All of us have fears, dreams, and hopes.

All of us want to be loved and be happy.

There is no rush. We have time. While we are at it, we might as well as wear those funky Converse shoes we have had lying around in our closets for some time now and have some fun. Even laugh. Just let things be and not take ourselves--or life--too seriously. Life is simply too short.

If you would like to share something, please feel free to send me an e-mail. Who knows? Maybe I'll even have a guest blogger here from time to time.

So begins our conversation. Until the next time.