Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Hey! You Speak My Language!"

While waiting for the bus to take us home from Thanksgiving shopping from my husband's work at Giant Eagle, my husband and I took advantage of the twenty minutes or so to watch the rainpour and chat in our language...Hebrew.

Suddenly, an African American guy turned to us and asked, "What language are you speaking?"

"Hebrew," we replied.

"Shalom," he said.

"Shalom," we said back.

"Mah zeh? - what's this?" he said. "Mah zeh!"

I couldn't help but laugh. "You're laughing," he said. [That was something my dad would of course, have said....]

Little did he know that I was really laughing because I was surprised to find myself utterly connected with a stranger through language at that very moment.

I swear that the fact that he spoke just those few words in HEBREW lit the way during that stormy night. The light gave me "voice" - my language was recognized. I wasn't melting with all the other voices.

It would be one thing to "blend" with all the other voices. "It would be another thing to blend with all the other voices and still stick to my own voice and story.

But because I tend to shrink under my own light, I don't even get to the part where I allow my voice be woven in those colorful and rich strands of diversity.

So that moment allowed for some inter-cultural exchange and communication that also just happened to be grounded in a diverse setting.

That I wasn't alone. That I wasn't emotionally isolated. And that it is possible to find a connection. Somebody was actually speaking our language. OUR language. MY language.

"I know just a few words from when I worked with Israelis in New York City. They would always say, "Mah-zeh, mah-zeh, all the time."

"Yep," I said. "I can see that happening."

"What kind of business were they in?" My husband asked. "Clothing or electronics."

"Uh, clothing," he said thoughtfully.

"Shloshim v'shalosh. Shloshim v'taysha," - Thirty-three, thirty-nine.

I laughed again.

Ivry, my son said, "Shloshim v'shalosh."

"I was working at the store in 1995," he said. "I was a security guy."

"Oh man," my husband said.

"I was making $4.20 cents an hours and lived out in Queens."

"And you travelled two hours by train each way."

"Yep. That's right."

"And I was paying 85 dollars a week for renting this room," he said.

"A room?" I asked.

"Yeah, a room. That's all I needed at the time."

"How old were you, 18?" Ivry asked.

"Smart boy," he said. "Give me five."

As they high-fived, he said, "19. I was nineteen and that was all I needed."

Haim and I went back to our chat, but the moment wasn't the same. We knew that even though other people like this African-American gentleman couldn't understand our conversation, he was, at the very least, privy to a connection that also brought him connected to his past and memory and who he was.

"You're a good man," Haim said. "I can tell."

"Thank you - TODA."

And on the bus ride home, just before he finished up his cell phone conversation and exited the bus, he turned to me and said with a smile for all the people on the bus to hear, "SHALOM."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Voicing Smallness and Bigness and Other Mangeable Emotional "Chunks"

Smallness and Bigness seem to be the two US themes that emerge in my writing. And they are often part of the darkness of my being.

Let me share with you an anecdote:

To avoid sinking small and letting the size overwhelm and distract and get in the way of relationship building, I have made it my intention to connect with that element or elements that are approachable and "digestable." By "digestable," I mean, I don't look at the pain of the scenario, but I bring my awareness to the more subtle things that could potentially uplift the situation as I look past the pain.

For example, at yesterday's ELI Pre-Thanksgiving potluck, despite the fact that there wer so many nationalities, there was something about the BIGNESS of that room that made me feel uncomfortable. The combination of a familiar cultural context and huge spatiality (that is so typical of US architecture and infrastructure) completely disoriented me.

One of the main reasons why I am still having a difficult time coping is because of this physical and cultural BIGNESS. Towards the last few years of living on the most beautiful kibbutz in Israel, (our kibbutz, Sde Nehemiya) the scope of my world was within a 360 degree radius and I would bike the 1 kilometer to school every day alongside the Jordan River. I never needed to venture beyond what was emotionally and physically unmanageable and life became quite routine and comfortable and I felt good in my own American-Israeli skin.

However, with that said...

Too much unfamiliar sometimes creates the familiar.

At an event for all students at the English Language Institute at the University of Pittsburgh where I work, I sat around a big round table and in a big and tall hall with chandeliers and pink painted walls with golden mirrors - something like a palace.

And in that big room, I quickly found comfrot in the voices of children - Ivry's age. Children don't need to be reminded to have fun and they find pleasure in the most amazing things. Within seconds literally, these three Chinese boys and Ivry were already making paper airplanes and wizzing them with glee. Of course, they managed to throw them up into corners and nooks and cranies of huge columns that were unreachable without climbing a long ladder.

Ivry, my son, quickly made friends with Chou-Chou, a sweet Chinese boy who is also in first grade. Although his English is quite good, I was quickly transported to that "other BIG cultural context of language learning" of what it felt to feel "SMALL." And although manageable is desireable, feeling "small" equates to me nowadays, the "silent voice."

We run into a medium sized hall where I can still keep eye contact on the boys. And miraculously, in this clean, well-lighted hall, I am "home."

And it is at this medium sized hall, where I suddenly catch the sight of a young woman who has joined us - probably 23 or 24 years old. She seems to stand out from the parent-kid scenario as she leans against a column and texts. She looks at us constantly and when our gazes lock, she smiles as if she tries to fit in. Her smile is specifically directed at me. Why? And why is she here and not with the hoards of people inside eating yummy ethnic foods?

When we move into the next adjoining hall, she follows us again. In fact, she continues to follow our movements as if we are a flock of birds migrating south for the winter. And all the while, she looks at us. At one point, she disappears entirely and when I remember her, I am already on the bus back home with Ivry - planning already the routine in my head for the upcoming week as we both muster a yawn or two.

So this is the voice of myself echoing "smallNess" from the BigNess. At the end of the day, we are all the same size no matter where we come from.

In fact, this nondescript young woman reminds me of myself many years ago - perhaps at one of the Israeli army bases I served on - and I tried to connect to different peoples of different units. And how quickly I wanted to avoid feeling small by fitting in. And how quickkly I wanted to grow up. Only this woman is to me "quite big" because she stands out from the crowd.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

She Would Have Been Born Today

It's hard to believe that I would have been a mother for the second time had I not have to go through that awful procedure back in May. In fact, that is a part of me I cannot believe actually happened. It seems so surreal and so not a part of who I am today despite the fact that it happened six months ago.

But now I realize that all happens for the higher good. Maybe my job right now is to concentrate on my writing and the "birthing" of two books while giving my son everything he needs.

This creation of this loved baby girl came from a place of "VOICE" - of confidence, trust and courage in this universe knowing that in spite of being far away from home, I was at "home" with my decision. And I felt loved and had a strong enough support system in the United States to believe I was strong enough to expand our family.

When I first got the terrible news, I felt that VOICE was gone. I did not have words to convey the pain of what I felt. I wanted to scream, but couldn't. I wanted to cry, but couldn't. I even wanted to write, but couldn't. Our intentions to expand our brood were honorable, so why this terrible dooming fate? It was the unlucky experience we had to deal with that drove that "voice" away.

I also have to remember though that life for us is complete right now, too. With just the three of us and my many other "babies." And we need to give thanks for those things too.

I often wonder however when I'm not occupied with other stuff, how that baby girl's voice would sound. She never had a chance to cry in this world, be held or feel loved. How Ivry would respond to being a bigger brother.

She was part of my voice of helplessness and compassion. Our voices strung together like a melodic heartbeat.

Our grief has eased but I know it will last a lifetime because she is gone - she was the product of love between my husband and I.

The decision we made to terminate the pregnancy came from our own hearts, but in essence, she is "voiceless" because she never got a chance for her to make her "mark."

I can only imagine what it would have been like to hear her cry and dress and feed her - but at least I have the voice of this blog to share what this experience means to me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why the Birthday Project is More than Just a Project

Many of you have commented on my facebook page and "liked" some of the status updates associated with "The Birthday Project," which I discovered recently. This woman is a walking "lamplighter" and mitzvah maker. However, it is clear though that the concept of doing 41 random acts on my birthday, there is much more significance for me beyond the random concept of giving.

It is when we give, we truly have the potential to make the greatest impact. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we get so caught up in our busy lives that we lose sight of the moment and the infinite possibilities.

I took on the Birthday Gift project from a place where I finally felt comfortable with my surroundings. That I could say I belong to a community. But it hasn't always been this way.

In a small community such as ours, you need to grow roots. Redefine connection – not be afraid to ask for help. But it's not always easy, especially when you feel the strong relationships of other younger women to their mothers.

Through giving, I am creating a "new archetype" for motherhood. I can't rely on a mother figure because that's just not going to happen. And not rely on other people to fill in the gaps. By giving, I create my own "new reality" - my own catalyst for change.

Having a reason to give makes it also easier to bond with strangers. But when you have a reliable support system, you don't always need to think outside the box, because "the box" is always there.

In a new community, your friends are your family.

By helping the blind person cross the street this afternoon or taping coins to the vending machine or mailbox, I am sending a message to myself that the "unfamiliar" is slightly less "unfamiliar."

That it IS possible to find a connection.

That it IS possible to feel less of a "stranger."

That there ARE other options to this "strangerhood" to help me cope with the isolation.

That I CAN find my tribe after many years of living in Israel where I HAD my own tribe and support system.

Through giving, my world view is shifting. My attitude used to be: “people pay more attention to you when you put up an emotional, needy or suffering mode."

Not anymore.

I was determined to put away those voices that made me feel “small.” And in a diverse setting, this can be tricky. It’s so easy to feel isolated and unappreciated. The streets are wide and lonely. Everybody has their own culture, language, TV and SUV.

But not me. I'm part of a universal dimension that goes beyond the computer screen.

When I first came to Pittsburgh, I knew full well, that I had a big challenge of emotional and social isolation to overcome, but I didn't realize how HARD it would be.

When I go for example, to someone else’s house here – they speak so much more “connectedly.” The families that hosted us in the beginning wanted us to feel at home so badly, but they didn't realize (and still don't) how isolated I felt. I still feel lost, empty, sad. Even though we were blessed with abundance the minute we arrived, I still thought "lack" or "empty” thoughts.

There was one thing I needed to build that was missing from my environment – trust.

So today, I put outside two BIG bags of canned and boxed goods. Since we don't have a car to bring it anywhere, that was the only viable soltuion. So I just grabbed the two bags and brought them downstairs. We weren't using them anyhow. When I came back an hour later from reading stories to my son's classroom, the bags were gone.

I saw one man carrying the clear through plastic bag with some perishables. The ones I just left on the street. I quickly passed him, and said nothing. I sized him up. He spoke Russian.

And for a moment, I felt "the community" just spoke to me.

It was the first time that my presence rubbed off me and unto somebody else in such a short and fleeting moment. Could it be some kind of impact?

"It seems," I thought. "People are hungry all over. People need to be nourished. People need a voice - not just food."

I know I can get excited when I see something I want and it's free.

But I also can appreciate the feeling that there is somebody outside who is "thinking of me."

Now it's MY Turn.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

HOW I Serve and Support My Current Life Theme of Emotional Isolation

Just the other day, I realized that a major life theme running through my life right now is "finding a home - a center" and "building connections with those people" who energetically center me.

After years of building roots in Israel, I found myself suddenly "uprooted," when we came back to the States in 2007. As two professionals, we experienced the "brain drain" and needed to leave.

It took me four years of living in the States to get to the point where I felt safe enough to reconnect with like-minded people, who have diverse backgrounds, think in diverse ways. Facebook is a good place to start - only it is hard to ascertain who is real and who isn't. Our busy world doesn't allow for much more than casual conversation than that that often comes across as "impersonal" because it's so "virtual."

Once I started writing about this emotional disconnect and loneliness as I found myself trying to find a "center" again after living so many years on a beautiful kibbutz where I had everything including a support system, I realized it was time to "heal" myself in ways I had never even considered.

What's working right now in my life to support this need to build "a healing center in a world of diversity?

Diversity at the core of its universal meaning, is a beautiful and wondrous thing - language, culture, mentalities, traditions, values, attitudes. In Israel, this concept played out wonderfully. Because I was unique and special as an Anglo Saxon immigrant, I was able to bring something unique to the cultural and linguistic rural landscape of the Upper Galilee. For example, I taught English to Israeli schoolchildren and university students.

As one who is deeply drawn to the diversity of this world, I found it threatening and sometimes still do when I came back full-circle to my US roots as a mom and a wife. How could I build a support system in a community of people I hardly even know? How can I trust a complete stranger? How do I get out of my comfort zone - taking into account that on a kibbutz, you don't have to venture beyond the 360 degree radius; work to school was a 1 kilometer bike ride away, and visiting my parents were a mere 30 minutes drive away down a comforting and familiar road - in-laws were another hour.

I started to write "meaningful stories" that started as "rambles" and "observation snippets" about things that were working in my life. If I went on a Pittsburgh city bus for example and I was feeling isolated and lonely, I would describe how the bus experience felt. I'd observe the faces, what struck me about lonely and isolating in that moment of time. Over time, this way of recording experiences first as a ramble and then in a more organized form, helped me overcome the silence and isolation.

Through writing, I felt more connected.

Through meditation, I felt more connected.

By becoming a part of Christine Kloser's Author Mastermind Program, I found my tribe.

All these "pieces" when together, helped me find my own voice in a world of diversity.

Through writing, I was able to poinpoint also what areas of my thinking and feeling were keeping me "stuck."

Writing these stories not only gave me greater clarity, but also allowed me to FEEL the transition and vision. What is still needed in order to serve my vision? (support it)?