My mother gave birth to me at 11:43 p.m. on May 14th, 1991. I like to think that being her third and final child was a sign of her realization that she finally got it right (after failing miserably with my two older brothers).
At the time, she was 36 years old, already the mother of two. Her months of pregnancy were probably spent trying to manage Reuben, a bona fide misbehaving boy, and Noah – a child who has been too smart for his own good, pretty much since birth.
People say there is a special place in heaven for mothers who raised all boys. I would not argue with that conclusion. In fact, I’d say that they deserve their own special place, a suite, room service, unlimited cable, restitution, personal masseuses, a makeup artist, and the best cook God can offer.
You see… most of my mom’s middle-aged years have been spent trying to wrangle a group of three and sometimes four (hi dad) boys into behaving.
From the times she had to change my diapers to the times she spent answering to police officers and principals, time to rest has been nothing but an illusion. A typical day included her or my dad making lunches, cooking breakfast, driving us to school, picking us up halfway through the day because one of us got caught skipping class or hiding beer in book bags, and then dealing with our resentment when we were handed down what was undoubtedly a fair and lenient punishment.
Throughout that time, she’s also been an inspiration. My mother is a proud cancer survivor. The victor over a disease that took away her sense of well being, her sister and father, her hair, but never her will. She is a tri-athlete, an editor, an employee of the prestigious Princeton University, and one of the most loving people I have ever encountered.
Yet, she was and is feared. I learned in my teens, when my brother’s 22-year old friends would run at the sound of her footsteps coming downstairs at 2 a.m., that she was the queen of her domain. Her fear of birds (one that we abused religiously, like the time we hid a dead bird in her gardening mulch) was nothing compared to our fear of her catching us with beer and pot, or sneaking out, or getting in trouble at school.
Mom is also an object of mystery. Her past as a bit of a wild child has been alluded to, but never elaborated on, by both my aunt and my grandmother. I’ll never forget when she mentioned plainly, in passing, as if I had known, that she spent a year after high school graduation hitch hiking across the country. “It was just the time,” she told me. Born Barbara and now Baru, she moved to Russia and back, attended the University of Maryland when she thought the time was right, and – from my perspective – basically lived the life of a hippie child on the run.
As a parent, the only way I have ever known her, she has had infinite patience. Some of the things I received scolding and groundings for as a kid seem – today – like things I should have received beatings and jail time for.
As a child, I was her baby. Certainly, I was coddled in response to my brother’s abuse, loved unconditionally for being “innocent.”
As a teen, I was given lenience and responsibility, and most importantly, the freedom to be whom I wanted.
When I sat down at dinner one night to announce proudly and prematurely that I was an atheist, my mom simply asked for my reasoning and encouraged me to stay educated, confessing honestly her own doubts about organized religion.
When I grew my hair into a ridiculous wannabe Afro at 13, the only time she ever encouraged me to cut it was for my Bar Mitzvah. She welcomed with open arms all the girlfriends and friends, good and bad, that I chose to bring home.
Towards the end of high school, she made an addition to the family; my unofficially adopted brother Venose. Once a 16-year old troublemaker left on the street, he was further proof of her and my father’s incredible good will, and wondrous talent at raising good spirits. Venose is more than a fixture in our family, and turned into a pretty damn good person at that.
As a young man, I continue to learn from her. Through job searches, challenging course work, heartbreak, death, victory, loss, and just about anything life throws at you, she has been a source of wisdom. She has taught me to treat women right, to be grateful for the little things, to channel your spirituality and good energy, and most importantly, to enjoy the life you live and never give up on the endless pursuit of happiness.
Today, she is one of my best friends. Today, she holds my trust like few people ever have or ever will. Today, she is the birthday girl.
So with that I say, happy (29th) birthday mom. I know, like the good number one fan you are, you’ll be reading this. So here’s to this and many, many more.
It means laughs over stress. It means beers over studying. It means friends over television. It means sunsets over sunrises.
It’s when you call an old friend out of the blue. It’s when you laugh at the way life shit on you today. It’s when you know things could be a lot worse. It’s when the worries don’t seem so necessary.
It’s not cliché. It’s love over hate, just because. It’s unique faith. It’s the moment between songs. It’s anticipation for what’s to come, not what has been.
It’s finding a reason to appreciate what you’ve lost. It’s finding energy in what is in front of you. It’s seeking a message from what’s to come.
It’s two unrhymed words.
It’s seeking help in those that hold wisdom. It’s listening to what they say. It’s learning from your past, and then forgetting it. It’s putting your strong foot forward, despite all the reasons not too. It’s a rising star, the beginning of a race, the first ten minutes of class. It’s curiosity, cohesion, and creativity.
It is singularity that brings comfort; one moment to do what you love, one person to see in the mirror, one reason to wake up, one question to answer, one new thought to bring to the galaxies, one more smile shared, one more entrance to make, one more journey, one more chapter, one; it is the only.
Life is a melodrama; the only thing real is art. It’s the first breaths of a newborn child. It’s the mystery of tomorrow, of tonight, of the next hour, of the next twenty minutes, of the next sentence, of the next questions, of the next answer, of the next glance.
In the Torah, it is said that the moment of death contains immeasurable pleasure. That instant, according to Hashem, is as if you took a sip of all the pleasure of your life. If in one shot glass you had every laugh, every moment of love, every instant of pure joy, every drunken story, every experience on drugs, every orgasm, all squeezed into one sip. Now, make that all the pleasures of every person in Philadelphia. Make it the country. Make it every moment of joy of every person alive in the world today. Make it each wedding proposal, each incredible concert, each beautiful song, each soaring eagle, each perfect exhale, each and all in this one single shot of life. Now make it for every being that has ever lived. A shot for the joys of every animal, dinosaur, plant, and human that has ever taken a breath. All of that, in one shot, is nothing compared to pleasure you feel in death.
One Life is the understanding that death will come as sure as the tides will change. One Life is the decision to live your life in a way that adds to that shot glass, not just for you but for every person that has lived before you, every person that has lived with you, and everything that will live on after you. One Life is seeking that which you love, loving that which loves you, and never corking any of the love you’ve ever had. It is unconditional, full of forgiveness and optimism, a love for all, a love for life. One Life.
To all that have held my love
It was her expectation for beauty that had made it so tragic. Like sunglasses covered in rain. Now, the downpour came. The night was true. There she was, barefoot, her wet toes curling around the concrete edge. The only sounds she could hear were the wind pushing through her hair, the drone of traffic in the background, the occasional voice begging her to step down. The only things she could see were the headlights of passing cars, the dark abyss that rolled underneath her feet, the streetlights and the stars. Above her were the heavens, where she longed to be. But to get there, she had to plummet. Her hair covered her face, dark and lonely, her clothes fluttering in the wind. Tears welled in her eyes, but the rain concealed their fall. She stood, contemplating the moments that had led to this. The first glance, the first lie, the first crack, the final decision. She removed her rings and dropped them first, their silent fall taking longer than she imagined. She would be next, she knew. She adjusted her feet, straightened her posture for the finality of this moment. Her world was going to leave, the pain would cease, the darkness no longer a feeling or an actuality but suddenly a state of being; she would be in a place where darkness was everything while it represented nothingness. Who will love you? Who will fight? Who will fall behind? The words rang in her head, clockwork, like church bells. She tried to scream but it came as nothing more than a grieving facial expression, a momentary weep, a sob. Her legs straightened, her torso became taught, her shoulders square. With one breath, an inhale and exhale, the emotion left her face. Her eyes went dark, empty, there was nothing behind them. She put her arms at her side, feeling her hips one more time. Her hands rose up; she stood like a cross, putting her weight on her toes and lifting her heels from the ground. Water dripped from her fingers, over her eyelashes, the rain her final cleanse. She leaned forward, like a swan, with all the grace and beauty she could manage, and entered her final descent. Suddenly everything was flying past, her body traveling faster on its own than it ever had. Her life had gone by quickly too, she thought. The ledge now empty, her life became what it was; a splash in the water, a splash in the universe, it’s ripples changing those around it, but ultimately fading into a nonentity. Like sunglasses covered in rain, it had been her expectation that drove her here. The ledge was empty now. The jump was complete. Another star had dimmed. The words ran through her head, one more time. Who will love you? Who will fight? Who will fall behind?
To Bon Iver, M. Van Ness, and the lost ones.
The sun is 109 times bigger than earth. It accounts for more than 99 percent of the mass in our solar system. Its helium, hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, neon and iron smash together at such an incredibly fast pace that it turns into the massive blob of fire and lava we see on the horizon each day.
This burning orange and red and yellow and pink circle in the sky dictates so much in our lives. The sun is time. It is energy. It is warmth. It is seasons. It is our solar system’s greatest spectacle, rising and falling each day in a kind of perfect pattern that makes this asinine and complicated world we live in seem momentarily simple.
Even in its simplicity, the sky is a complicated, unpredictable place. Right now, a star named Betelgeuse, one of the brightest stars we know, is losing mass – indicating its collapsing. As it begins to fold in on itself, like all stars, Betelgeuse will go super-nova; the grand finale, the last supper, the final bang, the encore. It could happen tomorrow, or it could happen in 100,000 years. It’ll become brighter and bigger than it ever is, and it will light up the heavens. When that moment comes, here on earth, we won’t experience night time for nearly two weeks. Two suns will sit next to each other, peering oddly into the galaxy, magnified and huge to our eyes, a solar hiccup.
In the sky for nearly 4.57 billion years, the sun has brought heat waves and droughts, disappeared for winters and white outs, and burnt the skin of the earth’s outdoorsmen.
In another few billion years, the sun’s outer layers are going to expand and expand until they pop and shed like the skin of a snake. Once this happens, the core of the sun is going to contract and heat up and eventually our greatest and most important star will turn into a red giant, growing to nearly 250 times its current radius as it engulfs– and likely incinerates – the tiny little place we call earth.
But before any of this, the sun will rise and set countless times. It will come up from the east, slide over our heads and sail into a smooth landing on the west. It will seem as though the sun is moving around the earth. In reality, it will sit still, stoic, as we spin and whirl through its orbit.
Each time our planet makes this circle, hundreds and thousands and millions of people will watch adoringly from beaches, rooftops, rearview mirrors, office windows, mountain homes and deserts as the sun’s first rays appear and its final light dissipates. And each time, hundreds and thousands and millions of camera flashes will go. Hundreds and thousands and millions of moments will be born. Love will be shared. Stories will be told. Beers will be had. All under the watchful eye of that enormous, violently hot mega-star floating through thin air in a place man will never reach.
Despite its size, brightness and importance in our life, the sun is actually 92, 955, 820.5 miles away. Its distance has no bearing on its significance. Without question, it is the brightest and most important star in our sky.
Like all things or people that bring us warmth, losing this sun will be devastating. When it gets to close, before its final blast into being a weak white dwarf, the sun will roast us violently. It will boil the oceans of Earth like water in a teapot. It will destroy and cremate all that our planet has to offer. And then, quietly, it will fade. It will leave. Its distance will never seem so real, so true. What is left will become cold, hollow, and lifeless. The earth will start from ground zero. Our remains will be nothing but the fossils of ancient dinosaurs, the ruins of Egyptian pyramids.
But the sky is an unpredictable place, and the future has an unknowable outcome. We all have our own suns. We all have our own stars in the sky. Like warmth, simplicity, love, and moments, they will come. They will last. They will collapse. They will leave. And they will come again.