I thought a lot about my grandfather this weekend.
It started when I was driving back home with Megan after spending a day around the city, getting fresh ink and new body jewelry, and having brunch with new friends. We were talking about how the numbers two and seven are a huge part of my life, and I told her about my grandparents, especially my grandfather. (My grandmother was born on February 7, 1942; my grandfather was born July 22, 1937 and died February 27, 2007.) It was sort of wonderful, to reminisce about the way that the numbers that once followed him throughout his life have started to follow me. It makes me feel like he’s always with me, and the thought is comforting.
And then there’s today. I was driving back from Brookfield Zoo with Megan this afternoon, and somehow we got to talking about superstitions after she reflexively crossed herself while I drove past a cemetery. So I told her about the day my grandfather died, and how I just had this feeling, this sense of urgency–this fearful certainty that he would be gone before long. And I realized that, even more than seven years later, it is still hard to think about it. It is hard to think about all the things that he was not able to see–of all the times where I have missed his presence. It is hard to think of a hypothetical wedding in my future when he is no longer here to walk me down the aisle. It is hard to remember how I didn’t understand his depression, how I couldn’t help him more–especially now that I know what it’s like to live with that monster inside your head. It is hard to remember every time that my childish annoyance and adolescent arrogance brought less-than-kind words and thoughts about him, and to him. It is hard to think of all the things I did not say, and all the thanks I did not give.
When Crystal lost her grandfather recently, I told her that it does not get any better, or any easier… not really. But you get better at dealing with it. What I didn’t say was that some days are better than others, and sometimes the pain feels just as fresh, and the loss just as acute, as it did on the way that someone said the dreaded words to you. And as I sit here, drowning in the way this has made me feel, I am reminding myself that I saw him the night before, that I said all I could say and did all I could do–that I have to let it go and forgive myself for not driving quickly enough to say goodbye when he was on the edge.
As I sit here, I have to remember to breathe and remember him as he lived.
As I was thinking about this question over the past couple of days, I found it difficult to verbalize an answer. I kept thinking, I just teach! I fell into teaching as I was looking for a way to justify my English degree to my mom… and I ended up loving every moment of it, including curriculum design. But as I thought about it today, while running around like a sweaty, headless chicken setting up my classroom, I realized that I teach because I care.
I care about our young people, whose lives are often full of experiences they cannot understand or process. I care about our young people who will grow to lead and—hopefully—change the world. I care about making their adolescence, which is such a difficult time, a time that they can remember fondly and learn from. I care about training future leaders in kindness and empathy and open-mindedness. I care about being a person that they can trust and learn from, both in and out of the classroom.
I care about words. In English, in Spanish, in French, in Hebrew, and in any language I learn later. I care about what words mean, and how they can shape the world. I care about the books that are formed by those words—books that are bridges to worlds I wish to visit and worlds I have known and grow by experiencing in a different way. I care about the way that words can encapsulate all of those different, complex emotions that can sometimes rule us as people.
And, finally, I care about equality. I care about education. I care about racial and social and economic disparities that can only be bridged through education. I care about empowerment and knowledge. I care about social change, and bringing it about, and keeping it going—and picking up the pieces that will inevitably fall. I care about what the world is like now, and what it can be, and what my students will want it to be. Simply, I care about the people of today, the injustices they face, and the change that they will bring.
As Tisha B’Av approached this year, I was found myself having really mixed feelings about it.
The date itself is always a sad one for me; I think of being at the Arch of Titus and feeling my heart break as I thought of all the destruction the Jewish people had endured over the years–and that was a full four years before I became officially Jewish, and a whole year before I started seriously considering it.
I expected the other feeling: anticipation for an upcoming moment of joy. Last year, as the darkness of Tisha B’Av began to recede, I entered the mikvah as Leiram and exited as Eliava–and I had hoped that this would always bring peace and solace after the storm that is the ninth of Av.
What I wasn’t expecting was the third feeling that assailed me this year: fear.