Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reclaiming Eighteen

So put your arms down, honey,
This ain't no execution,
I was just watching you sleep.
So put that crown down, sugar,
This ain't no crucifiction,
I was just watching you,
I was just watching you sleep.

~Tightrope Walker

I've been walking a tightrope for most of my life.

The crown cinches closely around my temples, so close that it draws blood. I spread my arms to either side so that I can walk the rope, stepping gracefully forward despite feeling that I might fall at any moment. I am somehow under the impression that I must carry any burdens given to me, that I don't have the right to say no. Mostly I am terrified that I will fall. It is important not to fall. If I am going to live up to everybody's expectations and make everybody proud of me, if I'm going to be whoever it is I ought to be given the training I have had, the talents I am said to possess, then it's on me not to screw everything up.

Because imagine how disappointed they'll all be if I do.

So instead I work out an intricate game of pretending and lying, ashamed to admit it when I don't know something, and yet somehow expected to know more than I actually do. So I pretend to be smarter than I am, pretend to know more than I do and yet I am terrified that someday people will discover it's all a sham and they won't like me anymore. The problem is that they were presented to me under false pretenses; they had heard about me from someone or had met me while I was discussing a topic of interest to me, and therefore something I actually know about. They infer from this that I know lots of different things. I'm terrified of disappointing them, so I pretend that I do.

But I don't.

I think it's time to reclaim my age. I'm eighteen years old. I'm eighteen years old and I'm allowed to make mistakes. I don't know everything. Hell, I know a lot less than I should! I have trouble with Hebrew grammar. I don't like reading most commentaries in the original Hebrew (even if I can) because it's harder for me. I generally don't know which sage you are referencing or quoting and the time period in which he lived. And I certainly don't know the sefarim you bring up in casual conversation. I don't like math. I know that if I put more effort into subjects I don't like, there's a far greater chance that I would succeed, but I often don't care enough to do so. I like simple things. I like ice skating in Bryant Park. I like chocolate ice cream. I like swinging and I like creating my own songs. I like going to costume shops and dressing up and playing. I'm an idealist. I believe in a better world and in good people. I can do very stupid things. Probably one of the stupidest is pretending to be older than I am because I worry that people won't like me as much if they find out I'm not as smart as they think.

But you know what? Screw that. Screw all of this. Screw the expectations. I'm eighteen and still discovering the world and I believe in the beauty of the things that I discover and learn from the people who are good enough to teach me. There's a lot that I don't know and a lot that I have yet to see. I happen to find particular subjects interesting and know some interesting things about them. But the rest of it is a sham, so I'm not particularly smart at anything but English, and maybe smatterings of Tanakh. I'm being perfectly serious.

So you need to let me off the hook. Or maybe I just have to let myself off the hook. You're older than me, you're younger than me; I don't really care. I can't be whatever you want in order to please you, because it's driving me crazy and I can't even keep it straight, so I may as well please myself. I'm allowed to be silly and carefree and wild and childish, even; I'm also allowed to be all grown up and discuss topics that I find interesting. I can be everything. I can be Chana. I can put my arms down and stop walking the goddamned tightrope.

And if I disappoint you as I am- if I don't live up to your ideal- if I don't know enough or am not smart enough to suit you- I'll tell you the truth, that will make me a little sad. Because nobody likes feeling inadequate.

But that's how this is going to have to be. Because I've been walking a tightrope and I want to get off.

I kind of like the sidewalk, you see. It's firm and sturdy and steady and there beneath your feet. Maybe it's boring. Maybe it's not as exciting. But you can go at your own pace and put down your arms and walk normally. You can stop worrying over every step you take and just breathe for a while.

I think I might hang out there from now on.

If you want to join me, you're invited to come play hopscotch.


Gil Student said...

There is no excuse for not liking Math, even if you are only eighteen.

Anonymous said...

Chana, it's OK to choose the sidewalk. No need to pressure yourself in order to please others.No need to put yourself and/or your gifts down either.Surround yourself with caring friends,the rest will follow.

Jew of the Desert said...

1) “Great is not the man who has never faltered, but the man who tripped fell and rose again to greater heights” –Rav Soliveitchilk

2)“The nature of excellence is such that we may truly excel in one discipline and one alone.”

3)It’s not being 18 or 20 or 35 that justifies having flaws and making mistakes, its being HUMAN.

4)There is no need to reclaim your age, it was always yours.

5)I refuse to let you “off the hook.” And that’s precisely because of my expectations. This is who you are at 18, struggling, finding yourself, finding your place here in this world while the whirlwind threatens to carry you off at any moment. MY expectation is that you be who you are today, now, at 18. And when you reach 19, to be who you will have grown into. It’s hard; I know, I struggle too…more that I wish upon anyone. Even in strength I hurt deeply.

6)It is with love and pain that I see your struggle, and with pride that I watch you move forward. And in this aspect I have learned to understand how God watches myself and all his children, B’nei Yisrael. In contrast, I cannot promise to keep you from all harm, I am not in control. But to be there for you- That is a promise, a commitment, I am willing to make. Even if it means all I can do is watch you while you sleep.

jackie said...

Hey--enjoy 18 for the short time that you still have it!

The Cousin said...

You're only 18...don't worry about things too much.
I've been through the same phase, and yes, it's not pleasant, but think of it as a mode of self discovery. [Heck, I'm still stuck in undergoing that same process, but that's another story for another time)

You're really smarter than you give yourself credit for. No, really. You may not realize or appreciate it, but it's true.

And as for hopscotch--wow, there's something I haven't done in ages! Sounds like fun!

Scraps said...

I'm allowed to be silly and carefree and wild and childish, even; I'm also allowed to be all grown up and discuss topics that I find interesting. I can be everything. I can be Chana.

This is what it all comes down to. You shouldn't have to please anyone else; the expectations you're living up to should be your own. You don't need to make excuses for wanting to be a free spirit, but that doesn't preclude your being an incredibly intelligent person at the same time. Set attainable goals for yourself, but not pathetic ones--push out, expand your horizons, go dancing in the rain and then hole up in your room with a mug of hot chocolate for all anyone's opinion matters.

I know what it's like to live with the weight of expectations bearing down on you. But I found, at the end of the day, the heaviest were my own.

I think that most of us are walking a tightrope in some form or another. And its not like the sidewalk doesn't have cracks and uneven spots where one can trip. But I'll join you for hopscotch, if I'm invited.

Madd Hatter said...

"3)It’s not being 18 or 20 or 35 that justifies having flaws and making mistakes, its being HUMAN."

I completely agree. And guess what? I like you a whole lot more after reading this post:)

the only way i know said...

Oh Chana!

Sweet sweet wonderful Chana...

Anonymous said...

I don't like the music, but I love those lyrics.