The Conversation is Still Worth Having

I came across an article on HuffPost the other day about what it’s like to have a conversation about politics in America. The author, Kayla Chadwick, stated that there are fundamental disagreements between people about the way our government should run and to what degree people should care about the welfare of their fellow citizens. These disagreements have then resulted in the ongoing arguments and bickering about healthcare legislation, tax reform and immigration law, among others.

While these debates are hardly a new feature in politics, American or otherwise, the attitude she brings to the discussion is symptomatic of the way political discourse seems to run nowadays. Her main point is that she is no longer willing to try to engage in conversation with conservative politicians or the citizens that subscribe to similar ideals because they lack basic empathy for other people. The article drips with her disdain for a number recent Republican bill proposals, Trumpcare being simply the tip of the iceberg. The title of her article serves as a clear summary of her view: “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.” She says that any person who would propose a bill that would take health insurance away from millions of people, vote against laws that increase funding for public schools or allow the working poor to earn a living wage, clearly has no capacity for considering the welfare of others.

I appreciate Chadwick’s candor and I will even admit to sharing some of her hesitation in striking up a conversation with someone who is so far on the other side of the political spectrum.  It would be particularly difficult, for instance, for me to be convinced that access to useful healthcare coverage and medical services should be anything other than basic human rights, as opposed to only rights of humans who can afford them. Furthermore, I could not guarantee that my opinion of a person would be unaffected if I heard someone try to push such an agenda. As much as I may want to engage in a substantive discussion about the merits – or lack thereof – of proposed legislation, it would be a challenge for me to get past that hurdle.

That being said, I think there are aspects of these kinds of arguments that Chadwick is missing. For one thing, Chadwick does not seem interested in reaching any sort of compromise. I don’t necessarily blame her; as she says at the start of the article, many of us have reached “arguing-about-politics fatigue,” so any conversation that starts from a point of disagreement seems doomed to devolve into the shouting, noisy stalemate often portrayed on cable news shows. Even civil conversations often end up sinking to the level of personal insults. Not only is there no “winner,” we end up so angry at each other that we don’t even want to hear each other’s opinions, leaving preciously small hope for any sort of resolution.

The problem with the view of any effort being useless since the goal is unattainable1 is twofold. First, it overlooks the idea of earning partial credit. Senator Bernie Sanders didn’t gain the Democratic Party nomination in the 2016 Presidential election, but he did succeed in pushing the party’s agenda much farther to the left than it had ever been. That is a meaningful achievement, even if he did not win the nomination. Chadwick may not be able to convince a conservative person to flip their entire ideology and become a Democrat but, at least by remaining open to conversation, she may be able to convince them to reevaluate the policies they are defending.

The other problem with reducing the approach to political discourse to the black and white terms of success or failure is that doing so reinforces the isolation of the various groups in our country with their own ideals. “The “I’ve got mine, so screw you,” attitude has been oozing from the American right wing for decades,” Chadwick notes, but she is leaving out the idea that the left has been just as obstinate; we simply replaced selfishness with self-righteousness. We decided that we knew what was best for the country and labeled anyone who disagreed as immoral, uncaring or racist.

I would argue that it is still worthwhile to engage in political conversations with people who do not share our views but that we have to modify our goals. As I said earlier, I agree with Chadwick that fundamental disagreements are extremely unlikely to change; that’s what makes them fundamental. A Republican is not going to suddenly become a Democrat just because I make a good argument, just like I’m not suddenly going to alter my views because I hear a persuasive defense of conservatism. If our objective is to understand each other, however, rather than convince each other, I think we can actually make some headway.

The main reason we often reach stalemates in these conversations is because people don’t want to be told that they are wrong. Most people are more likely to cling to their beliefs, even in the face of irrefutable2 evidence, rather than admit that they might have made a mistake. That’s why starting the discussion with the objective of trying to change someone’s mind is misguided; someone who has decided they are right is extremely unlikely to then decide otherwise.

On the other hand, if we start from a position of trying to understand the other side, rather than change it, we actually have a chance to achieve something much more meaningful. We have become so accustomed to keeping ourselves separated by labels that we have stopped viewing each other as actual human beings.3 The right ridicules liberals for being melodramatic and for not being fiscally conscious. Meanwhile, the coastal elites who campaigned for Hillary labeled Trump voters as uneducated racists, rather than trying to understand the reasons behind their decision to back him.

The best course of action – for all of us – is to talk less, listen more and to start from a place of agreement, rather than a place of conflict. Find out what you have in common with someone from the other side – allegiance to a sports team, family makeup, movie interests, etc. Ask them questions about themselves, their family and their interests. Ask how their background brought them to hold their current political views. Get as deep as you can in understanding where a person is coming from and then – this is the hard part – allow them to keep their beliefs.4 We don’t necessarily all need to agree; in fact, one of the primary tenets of our country is that we are able to move forward, even when we have differing opinions. But, as long as we can continue communicating, we can have a better understanding of each other’s opinions and work to reach some common ground about where our country is heading.

 


1. This concept was summed up by Bart Simpson as, “Can’t win; don’t try.

2. “Irrefutable” is significantly less iron-clad than it used to be, thanks to the knee-jerk reaction of calling a report “Fake News.”

3. We can thank the media – both mainstream and social – for this dynamic.

4. Ana Marie Cox, political correspondent for MTV news and host of the Crooked Media Podcast, “With Friends Like These,” conducted a number of these kinds of interviews with Trump supporters at a rally in Iowa with fascinating results.

Learning On the Job

I always knew I wanted to have children.

Part of it is that, when I was younger, I just assumed that was the natural course of life. All of the adults I knew had children, largely because all of the adults I knew were either my friends’ parents or my cousins’ parents. Growing up, getting married and having children was just what people did, at least through my young child eyes.

Not much changed as I got older. I always seemed to
get along well with children, whether they were my
young cousins or my friends’ Yavelberg kidsyounger siblings and, aside from some occasional sibling mischief, I’ve always felt protective of my two younger brothers. For instance, one brother and I once got separated from our parents at a museum when we were very young (five and two, six and three, something like that) and I remember sitting and hugging him in the corner of a hallway and telling him everything was going to be fine. (Our parents found us very soon afterwards.) In retrospect, my parental impulses were already developing steadily.

I never really knew why I wanted to have children, though. I knew I liked kids; I knew that I enjoyed telling stories, making funny faces and playing games with them. I knew I liked teaching, which came in handy when I was a camp counselor during my college summers. And I knew I liked listening to children tell their own stories, which has been even more helpful as a social worker. But still, even though I liked being around and working with children, I never knew quite why I wanted to have children of my own.

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Then, five years ago, my son was born. I remember being so astounded that my wife and I had actually created this little pink mush of skin and hair. In the minutes after he was born, I found myself repeating, “Holy crap, it’s a baby!”1 Even though I knew, rationally, that a baby was coming at the end of the pregnancy, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the idea that “baby” and “this new helpless life form in my arms” were the same thing. One moment, I was Aaron; the next, I was Daddy. I had become a father.

And yet, not quite.

Sure, I had become a father in the biological sense. I had passed on my genetic code to my offspring, thus fulfilling nature’s directive that the existence of the species will continue in the form of another young child playing with his earlobes and making fart jokes.2 But, as far as becoming a dad was concerned, I had so much more to learn.

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I want to see the genetic code that led to this…

I did learn. I learned the straightforward things, like changing diapers, cutting nails (sort of) and packing bags for day trips. I learned how to install car seats, assemble strollers and how to make it through twenty-four hours of flying with a toddler. And I learned the more complicated things, like trying to rock my children back to sleep without waking their mother, watching my son use a nebulizer and having difficult conversations. I learned about the struggle between balancing time at work, time with my wife and time with my kids.

I learned that there is no stronger feeling of guilt than realizing you have put your child in a dangerous situation. And I learned that there is no better feeling than when your baby lays her head on your shoulder.

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I’m thankful that my children have taught me so much about being a better parent, a better husband and a better person, in general. Dads like the ones in the video below don’t always start out that way; it takes a lot of work to learn to be a good father. I’m thankful that I’ve had fantastic teachers who give me new opportunities to learn every day.

I have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion. Use the hashtag #ThanksBaby across all social media platforms to honor dads all over the world for Father’s Day. Also, check in on Twitter at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 17, for a one-hour #ThanksBaby chat with Pampers and Life of Dad, with a chance to win a $250 Visa gift card.


1. My wife, who was nearby getting cleaned up and starting her recovery from the birth, finally said to me, “Well, what did you think it was going to be?”

2. Mission accomplished. Just wait until Shayna starts doing it.

What If…?

Eitan goes to bed fairly consistently at some point between 6:30 and 7:30 each night. He plays hard at school and barely slows down once he gets home, so he’s usually pretty tired by the time he finishes dinner. Trudy bathes him and Shayna, reads Eitan a story, sings to him and then he falls asleep (or, if I’m home, I take care of the bedtime routine).

Shayna is slightly less reliable in that respect. It depends on the day she has had; if she hasn’t had an afternoon nap and it’s been fairly busy (which it often is), she’ll nurse and fall asleep right after Eitan. If she has napped in the afternoon, or if the day has been quieter, she may decide she wants to stay up and play longer. I can’t really blame her; that’s her only real chance to play with both of her parents without her big brother getting in the way.

Trudy and I were playing with Shayna on one such night last week after Eitan had fallen asleep. Shayna has just started taking her first tentative steps without holding on so Trudy and I were passing her back and forth and cheering whenever she managed a few steps instead of plopping back down on the floor. She was only wearing her diaper; she had been snacking on blueberries earlier and we hadn’t put on clean pajamas yet. We figured she could use the freedom and the feeling of her bare feet on the carpet to keep developing her walking skills instead of forcing her to get dressed immediately.

As Shayna made one of her trips between Trudy and me, we noticed a bump on her stomach.

It was small, a slight protrusion from the rest of her belly, about two inches above her navel. We tried lying her down to feel it but it seemed to go away when she lay on her back so we stood her back up and it reappeared. It wasn’t a pimple or a mosquito bite; it was under the skin, but it was definitely… something.

Trudy began asking me what I thought it was. “Is it just swelling? Is it something with her organs? Maybe it’s a hernia. Or maybe it’s a tumor.”

I suppressed my immediate reflex to respond as Arnold Schwarzenegger, largely because I had quickly started wondering if that was actually the case and nothing about the situation seemed funny. Against my better judgment, I started doing Google image searches for “abdominal hernia in baby,” “lump in stomach one year old baby” and “baby stomach tumor.” Trudy called the pediatrician and he said that it was probably just muscular but that we should bring Shayna into the office in the morning.

I tried to tell myself – and Trudy – that it wasn’t a tumor; it was probably nothing. Or it was probably something that could be easily corrected. In my head, though, I had moved from Kindergarten Cop to Toy Story:

In most difficult situations, especially at my job, I’m the human embodiment of Buzz Lightyear: calm, cool and collected, ready to figure out a plan and execute it. But in that moment, my brain had gone full-on Sheriff Woody.

What if it is a tumor? Okay, it’s probably not, but what if it is? And even if it’s not, even if it’s “just” a hernia or something, that’s still going to need to be repaired, right? Doesn’t that mean surgery? Shayna just turned a year last month; she can’t have surgery. But what if she needs it? Doesn’t that mean anesthesia? How can I watch my little girl get prepped for surgery? She’s going to be so scared! It can’t be a tumor. But what if it is?

And, of course, since I’m usually Buzz Lightyear, I didn’t say any of this out loud. All I said – and kept saying – to Trudy was that the doctor was probably right about it being muscular and that we would find out for sure in the morning.

Later that evening, I thought back to my mindset during Trudy’s pregnancies. I tried to remember times when I had asked what-if questions about my yet-to-be-born children but I couldn’t come up with any. This wasn’t a major shock; I tend to focus on the matter at hand in most cases and worry about what-if scenarios when they actually arise. But now I was facing a major what-if and I found myself thinking about how no one ever explains that part to expectant parents. People don’t often talk about the fact that terrible things happen to babies from time to time; that they get sick or they’re born with birth defects or genetic conditions. There are plenty of instructions for how to be a new parent, from how to change a diaper to different breastfeeding techniques to the best sleep-training methods. There are no manuals for how to hold yourself together when your child may be sick.

I’ve written before about my reactions when my kids get sick. The feeling of helplessness is the worst part; there is very little I can do in the moment to fix the problem. One thing I’ve learned is that having more information makes a significant difference. The what-if questions that send my brain into the Sheriff Woody frenzy were spurred by the fact that I didn’t know what was happening to my daughter. I didn’t know whether or not she was in pain or whether I would be able to keep her safe. Lack of information meant I couldn’t set up a plan, which meant I couldn’t find any control over the situation (which is what it means when a person is panicking).

This story actually has a happy-ish ending. We found out that the bump is, in fact, a hernia that will need to be repaired surgically but not for another year or two. The main thing is that Shayna doesn’t seem to be in pain, so we just have to monitor her in the meantime to make sure nothing changes.1 The key was finding out more about the diagnosis. Once Trudy and I knew what we were facing and what to expect, we were able to calm those what-if questions, put our parenting helmets back on (instead of our sheriff hats) and return our focus to keeping Shayna happy and helping her grow.

 


1. It also means I can think about that Kindergarten Cop line and this clip from Friends without feeling guilty.↩

A Portrait of the Artist As an Old(er) Man

I got checked out by a woman when I went out a couple weekends ago.

Hang on, it’s not what you think.

It was around 9:30 on Saturday evening. I wouldn’t say that the streets were packed, but it seemed like a busy evening. There were groups of people milling about outside the restaurants and more making their ways through the streets, plus a few who seemed to just be standing and listening to the music echoing from the concert at the stadium nearby. I had stopped at an intersection to wait for the light to change when she walked by.

She looked to be in her early 20s. She had done her hair and was wearing a dark jacket and jeans. I had been watching the oncoming traffic when I heard her heels clacking against the sidewalk. I looked up just in time to see her smile and quickly return her attention to watching herself in her phone as she ran her fingers through her hair.

Actually, it was really more of a smirk than a smile.

The differences between us couldn’t have been clearer. She was talking to someone on the phone as she walked; I was standing alone. She was going “out;” I was going to Target. She was young, I was old (…er). She had clearly put effort into her appearance; I was wearing this:

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I’m fairly certain I’ve had these exact clothes since I was in college.

She wasn’t checking me out because she thought I was attractive; she was laughing at me.

Before I go any further, let me be very clear: I was not insulted. I remember being 20-something and feeling like the world was at my fingertips. That’s how 20-somethings are supposed to feel. They are supposed to think that the world is full of possibilities and that they are at the center of it all. They are supposed to think, at least to a certain degree, that they know everything; at least, certainly more than anyone who is old (…er!) or who doesn’t fit into their social circle.

There I was, standing on a street corner, two days shy of my 34th birthday, with two finally sleeping children and an exhausted wife at home. I looked less like an gainfully employed adult supporting a family than I did like a college student taking out the garbage in the hallway of his dorm.

I found myself asking two questions. The first, obviously, had to do with what other people were thinking as I walked by. My feelings were clear: I was under-dressed to even be making a quick run to CVS, let alone moving among people who were out for a night on the town. I felt conspicuous, as though every person who saw me was immediately thinking of some sort of judgment about me. “Look at that guy,” I could practically hear them saying to their friends. “He’s got the drawstrings hanging out of the front of his shorts, he’s wearing flip-flops in 50-degree weather and he’s probably had that sweatshirt since he was actually in college. That must have been like twenty years ago.”1 My usual impulse to play the contrarian role seemed to have less will behind it on that particular evening.

The second was, “Why should I care what they’re thinking?” By most typical measures of success in life,2 I have it made. As I mentioned, I had two beautiful sleeping children and an unbelievable wife – who was not yet sleeping – at home. I have multiple jobs, including a private therapy practice, a post-graduate education and a savings account. What do I have to feel uncomfortable about? Am I really that insecure or was I just temporarily yearning for the times when I was young(…er)?

I decided that what I was feeling was normal. I imagine that, to a certain extent, everyone longs for a time when they had fewer responsibilities and had the luxury of putting their effort into spending time with their friends or going to parties instead of making late night runs to the drug store. On a more basic level, I imagine that many adults at least think about the difference between first going out at 9:30 at night and having been wearing one’s pajamas for twenty minutes by the time 9:30 comes. It wasn’t about the girl or my clothes or the fact that my glasses and the stubble on my face from not having shaved combined to spell “exhaustion” across my forehead. It was about being reminded of where I am in my life and being happy with what I have.

I’m thankful for the fact that I’m employed, even if it feels like the work never ends. I appreciate the fact that I’m able to support my family financially so that my wife can stay home with our children. I’m lucky to have access to resources and the awareness that I’m significantly privileged so that Trudy and I can impart the same awareness to our kids as they get older. There are some challenges in my life, to be sure, but they’re not nearly as severe as those than many other people face on a daily basis. I wouldn’t change a thing.


1. I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2005. It was twelve years ago.

2. Including The Game of Life, where the very object of the game is to get married, raise a family, make a whole bunch of money and retire. This game may end up being the subject of a future blog post.

Eishet Chayil

We don’t get many chances to have meals together as a family during the week. Between home visits and secondary jobs, I often don’t get home before 8:00, which means that Eitan and Shayna have usually been asleep for at least an hour by the time I walk in the door. I can sometimes FaceTime with them to say hi, wish them sweet dreams and get an up close view of Shayna’s tiny teeth when she puts Trudy’s phone in her mouth but that’s about it. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to walk into a quiet apartment after a long day of work, but nothing beats seeing Eitan and Shayna’s faces light up when I walk through the door.

It’s one of the reasons why Shabbat dinner on Friday evening is so important to us. Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, lasts from Friday evening through Saturday evening. There are official rules that describe what constitutes “work” which I won’t get into here.(1) The important part is that Friday night is the time that we spend together as a family. We eat dinner together at the same table, have conversations about our days or our plans for the weekend and enjoy each other’s company.

Before we get to the meal, we light candles to signify the start of Shabbat and then sit down at the table. We sing two songs before making kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Then Eitan recites the motzi, the blessing over the challah, and we start eating.

A couple of months ago, Eitan was getting antsy while I was singing Eishet Chayil. He didn’t seem like he was being rude intentionally, but he was clearly bored and tired and wanted attention (as four-year-olds often are). He began making faces at Shayna, tugging at his clothes and playing with his silverware. I stopped singing and asked him to sit quietly until I was finished. He did so, for the most part, though he continued to fidget slightly for the next few minutes.

Once we started eating, I asked him if he knew what the songs we sing before kiddush were about. He said that he knew that the first song, Shalom Aleichem, is special for Shabbat. I agreed and said that it is about bringing people together for Shabbat and wanting peace for the people we love.  I asked if he had never noticed me looking at anyone while I sing the second song and he said that he has seen me look at Trudy. I said that he was right and explained that the second song, Eishet Chayil (“Woman of Valor”), is about all the amazing things that Mommy does for our family every day. It took some slight prodding to keep him focused (he was still trying to make faces at Shayna), but he was able to come up with a number of things that Trudy does for us at home, including cooking delicious dinners, keeping the house clean and taking care of him when he is sick.

Gratitude is a concept that can be somewhat difficult for young children. They understand the idea behind saying “thank you” as an acknowledgment of receiving a gift but it’s hard for them to keep those words in mind regarding other tasks that are not necessarily as tangible. Eitan doesn’t see the effort it takes to keep track of his doctors appointments and school functions, for instance, or the coordination that goes into planning his birthday parties, two tasks that Trudy handles masterfully. He doesn’t understand the organizational skills necessary to keep track of countless Carter’s and Children’s Place receipts or the patience it takes to make three hours with two kids under five – including baths, dinner and bedtime routines – run seamlessly. He certainly doesn’t see the way an emotionally and physically drained parent collapses onto the couch in the evening after a day of whining, nursing and the occasional tantrum.

To be clear, I don’t fully understand those things either. I spend most of my days (and, often, my evenings, as well) at my desk or on the subway or in other people’s homes. People aren’t whining at me, demanding that I do things for them or crying if I don’t do them immediately. The difference is that I understand what I don’t understand (sort of). I don’t understand, for instance, how Trudy can prepare dinner, feed the kids, clean the table and kitchen, bathe the kids and have them in bed in the span of an hour and a half. I don’t understand how she can keep shopping lists and birthday parties and school event plans straight without having a breakdown. I certainly don’t understand how Trudy can look at a set of ingredients in a fridge or freezer and turn them into a meal I’d gladly pay for in a restaurant without a recipe.

The most essential aspect of Trudy’s “valor,” though, has very little to do with logistical household tasks. Trudy’s star has always shone brightly, but it changed once Eitan was born and then again even brighter when Shayna came along. It grew stronger, as though Trudy’s evolution into an amazing mother added new layers of warmth and caring, intensifying her ability to love the people around her. She’s not only the primary reason why our children are consistently fed, clothed and as social as they are; she’s also the reason they’re always so happy.

Happy Mother’s Day, Trudy. Thanks for being our family’s eishet chayil.

 

Speaking My Mind

It was just short of a year ago that I wrote a post about keeping my political opinions to myself.  I wrote that I had no interest in publicizing my views of governmental policies or the personalities that were advocating for them, largely because doing so felt like screaming at the wind. It seemed futile to publish articles about foreign policy or health care or education reform because I never felt like my voice would have any effect. I’m only one person, of course, and it is always hard to tell if anyone is listening. I pictured myself publishing a blog post and my words dissipating into the ether of cyberspace, without any response or recognition. Or, if there were recognition, I imagined it manifesting in the form of internet trolls hurling insults at me from the protection of Twitter egg avatars, rather than challenging my argument with an opposing opinion and engaging me in honest discourse. It’s not even that I’m looking for recognition with this blog;1 but if I’m going to write about something as important as the state of our government, I want to be able to make a difference.

The other issue was that I felt disappointed in the political conversations I was watching between actual politicians. I published the post in June 2016, at the end of the presidential primary election schedule. My biggest complaint was that the debates had become “nothing more than candidates throwing insults back and forth at each other while the political issues get pushed to the side… [All] platitudes and sound bites with no substance.” I was looking for leaders to describe their plans for moving our country forward but I was given reality television drama instead.

That brings me to today.

As I was deciding how I wanted to approach my stance to the events that have transpired over the past few months, I realized what has been bothering me the most about our President’s administration. It is not just my vehement disagreement with his choices for cabinet posts, as I outlined in my letter to the President on Inauguration Day. It is not just that I take exception to the blind defense that most Republican members of Congress provide in response to the President’s executive orders that are clear examples of discrimination. It is not even just my anger about the GOP’s celebration of a health care bill whose purpose is to offset tax cuts for the super-rich, rather than provide actual health care to U.S. citizens.

The most concerning and frustrating aspect of the American government since our President took office has been the fact that the supposed leader of the free world does not seem to care about the people he is said to be leading or the institutions of the country of which he is supposed to be in charge.

The President makes open displays of disdain for those he feels are beneath him and speaks negatively about foreign leaders without hesitation.2 Many of the President’s words seem to be uttered without any consideration as to their potential consequences. He appears incapable of admitting that he is mistaken (at best) or that he has lied outright (at worst). His disregard for the weight of his position and the related importance of his comments has shattered any last shred of integrity that might have remained with him.

To put it simply: I don’t trust him.

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that an educated American citizen feels like his Commander-in-Chief cannot be relied upon to accomplish simple administrative tasks. It is also unfortunate that his staff is forced to bend over backwards trying to defend his actions and comments, even if doing so forces them into their own political gaffes. However, neither of these are as depressing as the refusal of Republican members of Congress to deviate from party lines in order to speak out against behavior that is harmful to the American public or, in some cases, borders on treason. Our representatives in government should be held responsible if their actions do not benefit their constituents. If they vote in favor of bills that have a direct connection to negative results for the citizens in their districts, they should not be re-elected. If those in power take action to remove people from office who are investigating potential ties to corruption and foreign interference in our governmental procedures, they should be held accountable.

It is not worth remaining quiet about one’s views in our current political climate simply because the desire for open and honest political discussion is hard to find. It has been people’s complacence and comfort with silence that has led to the mess that has become our government. People need to speak about their ideas, whether the audience is apparent or not. We need to write letters to editors and op-ed pieces, make phone calls to our elected officials and attend rallies and marches in person. If it feels like Washington is not listening to us, we need to speak louder, reminding our representatives and senators that they work for us and not the other way around.

However, and perhaps this is even more important, we also need to listen. While it feels empowering to join with those who feel the same way we do, it is incumbent upon us to engage those who disagree with us so that we can understand their position and become more informed about the circumstances that brought them to their opinions. Such discourse continues to be critical for our nation’s progress because open conversation is the only path toward compromise. Even if we succeed in replacing the politicians who have brought us to this point, a lack of appropriate and mindful follow-up would land us right back at square one in the future. Without it, the population will continue to reinforce the current divide along party lines, resulting in the same white noise that has brought us to where we are today.


1. Which is good, considering the blog’s fairly meager following.

2. And those were our allies!

Featured image courtesy of Mediamodifier.

Awesome Clouds

My eyes scanned the ground as I walked, mapping out each step so that I could avoid the muddy patches near the walkway and the awkward separations between the sections of concrete. It was somewhat slow going; I kept having to pause so that I could pick the blanket up and re-wrap it around Shayna’s body that was huddled against me. I gave her a little smile but she didn’t respond. Her eyes held my gaze for a moment before turning back to the nearby trees swaying with the breeze.

“I know, Shin, I’m sorry,” I said quietly as I tugged the blanket up again and tucked in the corners.1 “I don’t really want to be here either.”

I stayed back behind the gathering, not wanting to disturb anyone if Shayna started to object to being out in the cold. The people kept shuffling in, squeezing together to make room for everyone. The cold began painting faint roses on their faces, some of which still showed the faint streaks of dried tears. I bounced Shayna slightly to keep her quiet and to keep my legs moving, trying to ignore the biting air and the reason we were all outside in the first place.

The rabbi began singing softly. Her voice was pleasant enough, though I found myself holding a grudge against her for making mistakes in her speech earlier in the day. She could have checked on the dates with any number of people, I thought. Of all days, she should have gotten it right today. The song ended and I let out a resigned sigh. The rabbi began speaking but I was too far away to make out the words.

My mind wandered as she spoke, desperate for distraction. The sky was a spectacular shade of blue, like a crayon that ends up getting blunted from overuse because of its appeal. A handful of white cotton candy clouds hung in the air, looking almost happy in contrast to the melancholy ritual taking place below. As I glanced at the names on the nearby headstones, I wondered who the people had been and why there were more small rocks piled on top of some of the graves as opposed to others.

A sudden gust of wind sent a chill through my legs. I turned to shield Shayna from the breeze and adjusted the blanket. Her head kept turning from side to side, as though there were too many things in the world to see and she couldn’t decide where to focus her attention.

“What are you looking at?” I asked quietly. “Is it the trees? The sky? The awesome clouds?”

Shayna turned her head once or twice more. When she finally settled on one direction, I looked up and saw what had finally caught her.

A large bird had taken flight in the distance. It glided back and forth, tracing circles and figure-eights through the air. “That looks like a hawk,” I whispered to Shayna. “He’s probably looking for–”

I stopped short, remembering where I was and for whom. I began to think of him and the moments we had shared together. I pictured us watching our sons play soccer in the courtyard of his apartment and tearing slices of pizza into little pieces for them at Nick’s. I thought of us drinking beer while we played arcade games at our friend’s birthday party and him making fun of me for leaving the party early. I thought of sitting with him at the bar as we watched the Philadelphia Eagles, his second love after his family. I remembered feeling simultaneously amused by his ongoing complaints about his team’s mistakes and embarrassed by his badgering of the waitress because the television showing the game kept cutting out. I thought of the love he felt for his team, which was why his disappointment in their performance was so intense.

Then I thought of his family again. I thought of his wife, who had been one of the first real mom-friends that Trudy had made after Eitan was born. I thought of his son, who is three weeks younger than Eitan, and his daughter, who is a month older than Shayna. I thought of how much being a husband and a father meant to him and how his children seemed to fill him with purpose. I thought of the connection he felt with his football team and how it paled in comparison with the passion he felt for his family.

I looked up again at the bird, still circling among the clouds.

“I changed my mind, Shin,” I whispered again. “That’s not a hawk; it’s an eagle.”

 


1. Shin is the first letter in Shayna’s Hebrew name.