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.