Monday, February 02, 2009

Neither an Island (Nor an Automaton?)

The men in my least, the important ones, have challenged me to be better.

Pouring soy milk into my cup of tea this morning, I had a sudden flashback of my brief tenure as a vegan. I laughed at the memory itself when the thought crossed my mind that my longstanding relationship with all things healthy (and organic) has outlasted the brief love affair I had with the man who (unsuccessfully) introduced me to a world without meat.

I chuckled at the realization that we all have the ability to change each others' lives without even realizing it. It made me think of the many private imprints that have been left in my own life from the individuals who have held more or less prominent positions in my heart. Specifically, I considered the idea that the male persons who have come into my life and made the most impact are the ones who consistently challenged me to be better than I could imagine myself to be. While I have certainly been the one doing all of the hard work, it would be remiss not to attribute the inspiration for the bulk of my most far-reaching endeavors to the individuals who pushed me and believed in me along the way.

For example, from the Spanish Poet-Cum-Tax Attorney that I nearly married once upon a time--I learned about beauty. Not only did he show me how to make fantastic mashed potatoes, he also firmly believed in my dream of earning a PhD. I may have since moved around the world and back a few times, but I still have every single letter and poem he wrote for me because of the sheer amount of artistry contained in them. He taught me about seeing the world in a grain of sand, only through the eyes of Spanish poet. In many ways, he gave me Spain. And, if not for Spain, I honestly don't think I could be writing this today. He also made me a tea drinker.

The Vegan (mentioned above) carried me into intellectual consciousness in the early years of my graduate work. Of course, it is little matter that I was kicking and screaming the entire time. Despite my childish machinations to the contrary, he patiently and persistently threw books at me to gobble in an effort to prevent me from cannibalizing myself with doubt and self-loathing. He gave me feminism, doused me in non-violence and stripped me to my bones before rebuilding me with postmodernist philosophy. He was the one who made me face my intelligence in the mirror and find a healthy outlet for it. "Good habits," he called it at a time when my very best habit was avoidance and denial. I still have every book gave me. Thank G-d for his friendship today.

The young Engineer-Cum-World Healer taught me about my place in the Universe, I think? We entered each others' lives just as I was emerging from a very serious illness, and, ironically, he had recently completed his training as an energy healer. Scattered across the world, we were quite a pair. When not testing the waters for pollutants in Bolivia, he was the French-Arab guy riding bicycles in the desert in an attempt to rid the world of the guinnea worm. Meanwhile, I was high-assing around Iberia and leading students through the jungles of Costa Rica while somehow miraculously pulling off my PhD field exams with aplumb. Crazy times. I have all of the letters and cards he ever sent me, not for their poetic beauty, but for their sincerity and affection. I also still have the perfect seashell that he sent me from the middle of genocidal Africa, where there isn't a drop of water in sight. He challenged me to think holistically and forced me to reckon with my own intuition. Endearingly, he supported me through my early forays into the Arabic language. His mother once remarked that we are the sort of souls who dance through lifetimes together. Realizing that we both have a long way to go before we are done, he still inspires me.

Who else? Ah, the Crazy Druze from the Golan! In the Crazy Druze I found yet another poet, and I also found my ability to love someone without complication. I still remember all of the words I learned from him in Arabic. My favorites are the words for "heart", "moon", "mint", and the phrase: "from my eyes". Through his Arabic, he introduced me to a world that would otherwise be lost in translation. His intellect was fierce, yet his manner was consistently soft and always steady. It always shocked me how he stood 100% behind my research. My favorite memories with him are walking arm and arm in East Jerusalem when he came for a visit. He taught me about honey, sweetness and patience.

Of course, rounding out my cast of characters is the Rabbi. Certainly this post would be incomplete without him. (And I can only chuckle as I write this.) Going back to my roots, the Rabbi was--perhaps not shockingly--from Latin America. He didn't give me poetry per se, but did introduce me to a way of living poetically. Biblically, maybe? In light of everything, he left a profound imprint of Judaism in my heart, spirit and daily life. While there have been days that I have felt brutally marred by the time he occupied in my story, I can say that I knew from the start that the Hand of the Universe must have engineered the whole thing for a reason. If not for him, I would not have considered teaching or living New England. In Boston, I returned to the place of my birth, which was both unexpected and revealing on so many levels. My time with the Rabbi solidified my already well-developed committment of service to others, of finding realistic ways of being "the change I wish to see in the world", which directly stemmed from my study of Gandhi with the Vegan and my personal evolution since. Perhaps the Rabbi gave me grace...

And so, here I am...on the threshold of another adventure...ready to re-launch to the Middle East in a few weeks...prepared to storm the deserts, rock the kasbah, and sink back into expatriate living. To quote John Donne, recent events have brought my attention to the fact that "no man (or woman) is an island". Of course, there are times that we may attempt to minimize the impact that people have on our lives, but what does this say about us? The mere act of doing so is an acknowledgment in itself. Perhaps it is not the best way to honor that person, but this is how we learn more about who we are. No one is an automaton, I would respond...

(Well, at least I am honest.)



VJ said...

Just lovely and very sweetly wistful, N. Good luck with your journey and in all your new adventures. I'd tell you to wait for the smoke to clear, but there's always some smoke from the fires that burn, right? Cheers, 'VJ'

Jessica said...

And no one I know is a "pseudo-intellectual".

Anonymous said...

My mind woke up an smiled when I discovered your blog a few days ago. Thank you for delightful insights.

Namaste said...

Thanks for the lovely comment, anon. Smiling minds make me happy.

Jess, anyone who uses the word "pseudo" already has enough problems.

Thanks, VJ.

Caroline said...

Thanks so much for your comment on my blog the other day... I was so excited when I saw your name attached to it! I find you to be such an inspiration, both in the way you write and the way you have lived, and continue to live, your life. I hope this latest journey brings you peace, knowledge and the thirst for more of both.