Inspired by Tim O'Brien's book The Things They Carried
My generation carries a burden.
We carry the expectations of parents and grandparents who fought for civil rights, survived World Wars and experienced loss like few others. We carry the judgment of peers who have instant access to our thoughts, appearance and values. Living in an overpopulated, over-talented and over-achieving world, we carry the pressures of competition. We carry the fallacy of our ancestors and predecessors, the repercussions of laws and judgments made in a time so distant and foreign to us that we study it through history and art.
We carry need. We carry need for attention, for love, for security, for our phones, for the hottest and freshest technology and clothing, for perfection, for Hollywood, but mostly for something unique.
We carry a condition, one that forces us to make moments into instant memories, to make moments present seem like moments distant. The same condition leaves us at the party, constantly checking our phones and our facebooks and looking for something better than what we have, always striving for a change but never shaping what actually sits in front of us.
I carry many things, but I cannot carry any of them outside the context of my generation.
I carry my wallet, needing my Pitt ID for discounts and libraries and my license for booze and driving, although I try not to combine the two. I also carry it because I need my money for all the things that money can buy. In that same wallet I carry a bucket list. It is a string of goals and fantasies that are meant to remind me each day is something to be clutched, held tight, and even choked – squeezing out every possible opportunity for growth, experiment and joy.
I carry my keys, knowing I will need them when I return home and to an empty apartment. Sometimes, I look at these keys and wonder what it would be like if they could open every door I wanted them too, or start every car that has ever been made. Where would I go? Would I tour the Oval Office uninvited or snoop through a loved one’s closet? Would I take to the sunset in a brand new Lamborghini or a 1987 Winnebago Le Sharo?
Until recently I carried a regular old cell phone, one that didn’t have the fancy technology or apps but just buttons and text messaging and calls. With it I carried some sense of individuality, knowing that I hadn’t swooned over Apple and might somehow spend less time staring into my lap. In a way, that phone symbolized something more than just being behind on technology; I was rough, poor, unconvinced, cynical. “When are you going to get a new phone?” my friends would ask. “When?”
Now, after society almost left me behind, I carry an iPhone – the world in a box. I carry the Internet, something that boggles even my 21st century mind. I carry over 600 contacts, friends and family and restaurants and employers. I carry a wealth of knowledge unprecedented in human history; knowledge so vast yet so shallow that it can come and go in the confines of a search bar.
I carry my music. I carry The Tallest Man on Earth, The Roots, Lemon Jelly, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Iron and Wine, Mos Def and Cake. I carry all their notes, their lyrics, their bass, their curse words, their love songs and their history. I carry them so they can inspire me. I carry them so they can break me down. I let their music accelerate my mood; I let The Tallest Man on Earth help me descend into depression, I let Cake elevate my happiness, I let The Roots bring power to my fists, I let Lemon Jelly guide me through a high. I hear them and act as they tell me to.
I carry a lighter, not because I smoke but because I find that women who do are very attractive, and on the off chance that one ever needs a light I want to be prepared. In my mind, I have a fantasy about a beautiful woman, dark lipstick, long brown hair, heavy eyeliner, looking hopelessly around the Cathedral steps for someone to light her cigarette. I see her patting down her pockets, shuffling through her purse, only to look up and see me offering exactly what she needs without her asking. In her reaction I’ll see her recognition, recognition of our fate and my deliberate manner. Somehow, she’ll know I was meant to be there to offer her that lighter on that day and she won’t have a choice but to accept my offer of a drink sometime in the near future. She’ll never know that I had carried it patiently, sometimes anxiously, waiting for her perfect figure to meet my perfect timing. Like the universe we know, her and I will begin by a spark, a flame, a Big Bang, a moment; we too will be infinite.
On my feet I carry the legacy of a friend in a pair of shoes. The bright orange, white and grey Nikes are just like him: abrasive in appearance and demeanor but impossible to ignore. The orange is his individualism, standing out amongst others. The grey is for his age, a number that always seemed too small for his maturity and intellect. The white is for where he is now, some ideal of nothingness, something angelic, and something distant – undiscoverable, like light itself. They were a final offering, one of our last interactions in this world before heroin took his life. Despite their fun look and young age, these shoes are neither comfortable nor average. Like his death, they slow me down. They may even be a size to big, the way Jack seemed to big for this world, the backs sliding up and down my achilles each time I take a step.
Around my neck I carry a Star of David, a symbol of my tradition and roots. It’s sterling silver clasps have never been undone since it found its way onto my body. In some ways, it represents the city of Tzfat, where I found it. Tzfat is Israel’s San Francisco. The people thrive on being unique, on locating their own path to happiness, love and God. All are accepted in Tzfat. But the Star of David is much greater than Tzfat. It is also a stand for my roots and my community. It is an open admission of my Judaism, my ties to Israel, my value for the Jewish family. It is not meant to say “I believe in God,” but that “I love my people.”
Much of what I carry is internal and abstract. I carry potential, grief, thought, talent, weakness and pride. I carry a competitive nature. I carry some kind of awareness that everyone around me is participating in life like I am, and somehow that awareness keeps me from coming unhinged at the joints when I think about how incomprehensible, complex and confusing our world is.
Like my generation, I carry the burden of expectations, need, attention, security and desire. But in that desire I carry something deeper; I carry a goal to be an ambassador, a wish to carry my generation, an unyielding, powerful craving to do something, anything, that may change someone.