So there's this guy. His name is Brown.
And I don't know if I can put into words how fantastic he is.
Brown is amiable, chilled-out, cool. He's friendly; he's quick to laugh and his laugh is the kind that is generous, the kind that allows other people to laugh along as well, not the kind to mock or denigrate or tear people down. His laugh is inclusive; he believes in including people, in loving and respecting them, in seeing the good in them. Even when he is angry he finds it in his heart to be kind to the person to whom he feels anger; he is slow to anger and quick to forgive. There are few things that can hurt him, few things that can cause him to bear a grudge. He's the kind of guy you want on your team; the guy who is eager to slap others on the back, the one who is almost surprisingly smart because he doesn't flaunt it at all. It's almost like his smarts are secondary, his intelligence irrelevant. He believes in having a good time, in loving people and demonstrating that love by having fun with them, by making sure that they're feeling all right and doing okay today. He's an utterly sincere, genuine, straight person. The only thing he's ever wanted (from girls and the word in general) is for others to be straight with him as well. You could use the word yashar by him and see it used in its proper context.
He's wicked at video games; apparently he slaughters people with his mad skills on Playstation or Nintendo or whatever it may be. He's also incredibly interested in music, plays guitar, sings (I'm told he has a wonderful voice) and never gives off the impression that he is superior to everyone. He has this quality which enables him to make everyone feel wanted, feel respected in his presence. He makes everyone feel like they are his equal. That's an extremely rare quality. I think he's the only person I know who has it. Most people, whether they would or no, give off an impression of either superiority or inferiority, not necessarily in a bad context but simply in their relationships to other people; one person is the giver and the other one the taker. Not so with Brown. Brown is always equals with everyone; he sets himself at a level where he can be and he truly is everybody's equal. Perhaps he is blessed with the gift of true humility, the ability to know himself and to value other people more...or maybe it is that he values them as much as he values himself. Whatever it may be, others are comfortable in his presence; they feel accepted, wanted, valued. It's for this reason that he has so many friends, and of so many different kinds. It's because he doesn't hold himself above them.
He appreciates loyalty. He appreciates people being genuine and true, just as he is. Most importantly, he appreciates passion. He is frustrated by apathy, by people who don't care about anything at all. Because he does care; the world is large and glorious and lies before him and there's so much that he wants to do, so much that he will do. And he will do it in this quiet way, in this kind high-five how-you-doin' kind of way that he has. He's always been a people person and it's this skill that's going to help him in everything he does; people can't help but love him for his attitude, his extremely positive, uplifting, vibrant and kind attitude. When he says "Thank you" to you, you know that he's not lying, that he means it, that he's telling the truth, that he's being honest...and for this reason it means the world to you. Being told something by Brown isn't the same as having it told to you by most other people.
But I know him a little differently. Because I know him for his other side, the side that he doesn't flaunt but doesn't necessarily hide either, for he has many facets, as all people do. This is the side that is extremely smart and extremely analytical, the side to him that questions and wonders and delves beneath the surface, the wondering Brown. This is the Brown who understands everything I ask because he's thought of it before or at least touched on the concept, the Brown who could hold entire conversations on matters that are supposedly kefirah or apikorsus, the Brown who reassures me when I worry that I've gone too far and now I don't know the way back. You see, Israel didn't change Brown, but he did change in the interval between high school and college. It was his understanding of what stood at the top of the religious ladder that changed. Or as he put it, "I've always been a big questioner, so that was a big part of it...and Intro to Bible was huge. I have a good friend who knows a lot about academic bible stuff, so that opened my eyes to some cool stuff... and just getting older." Brown tends to question the "things that get glances" and he reads anything and everything that fascinates him, books that range from The Limits of Orthodox Theology to Rabbinic Authority. This is Brown who understands questions and arguments about God, who has grappled with the problem of theodicy, who wonders about impossible problems and impossible equations, the one who can help me by simply validating my questions and saying it's okay to ask them or to think them. And even that would be enough for me. But he takes it further- he's had entire discussions with me where I've been frustrated and spoken all my thoughts and told him I can't seem to find answers and he's either pointed me to books I would enjoy or showed me how he's in a similar situation and that all we can do is live with the questions. He's recommended Tanakh sites, websites, books and more to me and all his recommendations are appreciated. His insights are always meaningful in that they often relate to the human condition. Brown has an affinity for the human condition; he understands us well and therefore sees us reflected in Tanakh. He doesn't need to show off, he doesn't need to flaunt his knowledge; he understands, learns, grapples, questions and strives ever onward for himself, because he is curious, because he is motivated, because he finds these questions necessary and must live an examined life. And it is for all this that I admire him.
Brown once explained his thoughts on humility to me. And I was humbled by how easily and naturally he expressed them, by the beautiful kindness that emanates from him so that it seems he would never even think of acting in a manner where he exuded arrogance or somehow hurt another person. He explained that "being humble isn't about degrading yourself or thinking you're nothing special. It's more about knowing yourself well and knowing when you need to act. What would have happened if Rav Moshe Feinstein decided he didnt feel like poskening for all of Bnei Yisrael? He knew he was the Gadol HaDor, and he acted accordingly. So humility is certainly not always about lessening yourself. Beyond that point, it's a very difficult line to walk between confidence and arrogance and I'm not sure there's any one answer. Personally, I think that in general, it's important that we downplay ourselves sometimes. Partially because we don't want to be full of ourselves, and because we can hurt other people's feelings by flaunting something we have or do." He further explained that he thinks "humility can come from within or without. When it comes from without, that's probably better in some ways because it probably means you were put in your place. it hurts more, but it's more valuable in the long run perhaps. Or, it can come from within just by knowing and understanding that a talent, as much as it is to your own credit, is also a gift." It's that last that I think really epitomizes Brown. He realizes that all his talents, his gifts, everything that makes him unique and special, his mind, his ability to question, all this is not only a talent but a gift and it must be used accordingly, even responsibly. And this is how he is able to make himself equal to everybody.
Brown takes everything so well. He is good-natured; he's able to take teasing in stride (oven mitts) and even able to respond in kind if the venue is appropriate. He has a ridiculous sense of humor and is extremely funny. He's the king of random (I recall one priceless conversation in which he informed me that if you fell down an up escalator, you'd be falling up forever.) He's had his moments where he's been low or down; it's not that he's always this fantastically happy, goodnatured person and that the world is floating along. Not at all. He's incredibly human, incredibly real, very much there, understanding of people and of the world in general. He admits for human flaws in characters in the Torah; what is more, he admits for human flaws in people in general. He doesn't judge people harshly because he is able to admit for their being human. This in and of itself is a gift.
There was one memorable shuttle ride toward the end of the year where I argued out something with Brown (I'm forgetting what it was) and he broke down my argument. I was upset about it and said that I didn't like him painting me into a corner and he completely commiserated and understood and said that he didn't like being painted into corners either. But he knew and I knew that I would admit that I didn't have a satisfactory answer at the time. Because we both care about being intellectually honest and we know you have to be that way even if that means you're going to lose the argument. All it means is that you'll have to start your search again, begin looking and questing and questioning once more, figuring out a new approach and a new line of attack. And that's more worthwhile than pretending that something that you want to be true is true.
I respect Brown. I respect him because he doesn't ask for that respect; his presence does not demand it of me, his attitude is such that he does not suggest that he deserves it or that it is due him. It is precisely because of that that I respect him more, because I realize how much he thinks and the caliber of his thought and I see how careful he is never to put people down or to make them feel in any way insignificant. And I admire that and I respect that in him; I respect his dedication and how much he cares.
And I know it not only from the outsider's perspective but from what he has done for me. Brown was under the impression that I was walking blindly into what could be a potentially bad situation for me. And he was very protective of me in the sense that he warned me and was blunt, not in order to badmouth anyone else, but simply in order to allow me to make a decision with full knowledge of the facts in this particular situation. And that touched me. Because he didn't have to do that; he didn't have to offer to have that phone conversation, didn't have to warn me, didn't have to explain to me, certainly didn't need to go out of his way to make sure that I was informed but he cared enough about me as a person that he didn't want to see me walk into a bad situation and therefore he made sure that I knew. I don't think anyone has ever done that for me before and so I was touched.
Brown, being a beautiful person, was lucky enough to meet a fantastic lady, hereby to be referred to as Brunette (or Sparkly-Eyed Brunette.) Brunette is a fun, excitable, dramatic and artistic person. She is always on; she is full of energy, incredibly lively, a caring and kind person who goes about her daily activities and doesn't realize how special the things that she does are. She comforts freshmen who are weeping in elevators, allows completely random strangers to crash her dates (that'd be me) and entertains everyone with her renditions of school life or of life in general (always exciting, always enthralling; every day holds something new and undiscovered.) She's also a people person; we are all attracted to her energy, which is charged high. She is easily distracted and easily amused; she has a delightful laugh, loves easily and is therefore beloved.
Brunette has a way of saying something in such a matter-of-fact way that it gives you pause. She does things that are absolutely incredible but she considers them to be nothing at all, simply part of her life, something simple. What I am specifically referring to is her ability to work with Special Ed children. I have volunteered at a children's museum in Chicago; it's called Kohl Children's Museum. While I was there, an entire group of Special Ed/ disabled/ handicapped children came by. And I was humbled and amazed by them but the fact is, I saw them as different. I saw this little boy named Quetzlcoatl who was wearing leg braces and using a walker, and he was only four years old. And I saw him struggling to put one leg in front of the other...and he was so tired and his teachers were urging him to hurry up...but he was beaming. And that made me want to cry. Because I saw him and how hard he was trying to do something that is so easy for me, who just rolls out of bed and walks in the morning, and I thought of all the things I take for granted and was ashamed and humbled by this beautiful little boy who was beaming, smiling as though the sun had come out and bathed him in all its glory. And at the same time that I was humbled I was angry, angry at God who had forbidden this four-year old boy to walk in the same manner that I can, so easily.
And I told over this story to Brunette in order to illustrate a point and she thought for a moment and she said "But they can do so much else." And this exactly illustrates the way Brunette thinks and the way in which she and I differ. I can only see what this boy lacks, what he does not have that I do have. I am looking at this situation in terms of myself; in terms of what I can take away from it, in order to force myself to grow and move forward. And I am unhappy that he is unable to walk like I can; I see things in terms of what he does not have. But Brunette looks at this little boy and she sees a whole person. She sees a glorious, beaming, beautiful boy and she sees all the things he can do, all the ways in which he can succeed and that is what defines him for her; what he has and not what he does not have.
And when she expressed this concept to me I was completely floored. Because I realized how selfish my perspective was, how I had looked at him only for what he had not, and how generous her view was, in seeing him for what he did have and how that made him special. And I found it amazing that I could learn so much from a person after meeting her for only one time, and that she could say something that could so change my way of thinking...and throw it out there so carelessly, as though it were nothing to her. Because it is nothing to her. This is something that she does so easily and so beautifully; she dedicates her time and energy to these children and she does not begrudge a moment of it, she sees them as whole and as complete and does not see what is lacking. If I could only have her eyes for a day, how immeasurably I would grow!
And here is the utterly beautiful thing and the thing that has been making me so incredibly happy all day...as those of you whom I have shocked this morning know...Brown & Brunette got engaged this past Saturday night. So these two beautiful, beautiful people have decided to come together and to build up the world in the wonderful way in which they see it, adding their artistic talents, their goodnatured attitude, their kindness, charm, good will, sweetness, the way in which they care about other people and their ability to see what is good in others.
I really love Brown & Brunette. I love them much more than I could possibly express within the parameters of this post.
I think that their caring, their way of seeing people as whole, their ability to recognize the positive and to give off this kind, joyous, expressive and inclusive aura is rare and utterly wondrous. I am the luckiest person in the world to know and benefit from their friendship.
Mazal Tov Brown & Brunette.
I wish you all the good in the world. I hope that you may be blessed with health, happiness and prosperity, that you may always have this ability to effortlessly include others in your circle, to make everyone feel important. Long live Don Juan & Maleficent!
I love you guys.