On Wednesday evening, I brought my cafetera, a portable burner, a spoon, small plastic white cups, and sugar in a clear plastic measuring cup, all to make some Cuban coffee, cafe, for my muay Thai coach, Steve Bruno.
Coach always has stories. He’s got a busy, creative mind. A fighter’s mind, and a fighter’s heart.
We’re in one of the coaches’ rooms in the back of the gym waiting for the cafe to brew. From his chair at the desk, Steve looks at Nate Coy and me and says, I need to have someone spiritual around. He reminisces about a time that he was out of sorts, a little down.
One night around that time, he tells us, he’s on the phone with a guy he knew, a guy who trained at American Top Team a little while, a Native American who dances in full dress at pow wows. He told this man how he was feeling.
The guy tells him, Steve, you have a pen around?
Yeah, Steve says.
Pick it up.
Steve picks up the pen. Okay, Steve says, I picked up the pen.
You know how many millions of people around the world would love to have the ability do what you just did?
Steve looks at Nate and me, feigning incredulity, and he says, I was expecting this deep spiritual advice and he tells me to pick up the pen!
He shakes his head, says, But it was so true. I couldn’t help but feel better.
The first drops, the espuma, start to dribble from the spout. I show them how to mix the bitter with the sweet, pouring the espuma into the sugar. I put the cafetera back on the burner, and then use the spoon to mix those first drops with the sugar into a thick, caramel colored syrup. The rest of the cafe brews and I pour it in, stirring the syrup as I pour. Soon, a nice layer of light foam forms atop the steaming coffee.
I serve the cafe. Coach takes a selfie of us. I say my blessing. We drink. Liquid candy.
Then Coach finds a vid of the Native American guy on Youtube dancing in full dress at a pow wow. Barely anyone watched him. But he danced with purpose and his many feathers shook.
After a cafecito or two, I get ready for jiu jitsu. Fueled, I go to the other side of the gym and train hard for the hour.
Come home. Heys all around to my wife, daughter, and son. Pet the dogs. Sit across the couch from my wife.
How was your day? Midterms. How was your day? Midterms.
Chana, how was your day? Midterms.
Noah, how was – Midterms. And, Dad, we have no internet.
Food: 2 eggs up in coconut oil and two slices of Ezekiel bread.
Read some of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.
Shower. Ibuprofen for my sore shoulders. Call Advanced Cable and pay the minimum on an overdue bill. Work on preparing midterms.
Normal, everyday life.
Oh. Oh, yeah. Oh, Gd.
Twelve people murdered, exterminated with military precision by Islamic terrorists in Paris just this morning.
Cartoonists. Writers. Creatives. Provocateurs. Rescuers sent to help. Men and women with families. Neighbors. Co-workers. Friends. Twelve deaths exponentially. Because of cartoons.
Oh, Gd. Because of cartoons.
I’d spoken about it a bit at school. Just the facts. At a loss for words to go any deeper without losing it. And then life continued, as it must. Scout and Atticus, Huck, and Macbeth.
So now? What can I do?
The kids are asleep. My wife goes to sleep.
What can I do?
I can’t keep reading the same news reports over and again.
I write. I hit the notebook. I tinker almost meditatively with what looks like might could very well be a sci-fi novel. Then I’m distracted to change line breaks in a poem, add a couple of verses, take them back out, put one or two back in. Save that version, probably the 20th. Then another poem, primarily line breaks.
Whispering from the open door, I wake up my wife.
“I’m really tired, David.”
“I wish people would raise their children as if they were miracles. Superheroes. Creators. Because those kids will grow up trying to help everyone. They’ll know like Spidey that with great power comes great responsibility. They’ll know that they can overcome anything, like Batman. They wouldn’t shoot cartoonists. They’d revere the power of the pen. They’d pick up a pen just because they could.”
“I just had to get that out of my head. I have this poem I’ve been working on.”
She sits up. “Let’s hear it.”
We’re taught that we’re all part of the same algorithm: ein od milvado, there is none but Him.
That’s a great responsibility, an incredible obligation.
So what can we do?
We can be aware and share, shout from the rooftops and march to raise more awareness. At the same time, “normal” life must continue.
We reach out to the people around us who live in our immediacy, offline, even more so, as they are our own soul’s connections and concerns. We think globally, but we act locally.
We can daven. We can do mitzvahs with conscious intent. We can create — art, relationships, communities. This is defiance, not the ghetto. We can take self-defense classes and organize. We can pick up a pen and bring some new light into the world.
We can dance until our feathers shake.
We look for where we can make a positive difference just by being there, fully and completely when it’s right and good, whether with our own neshama or with our spouse, or kids, or family, or friends, or students, or Gd, perhaps even through words of Torah and Chassidus. Then we go there.
So, this poem is trying to go there, trying to take all these ideas, combined with scientific curiosities, to form some vision of perspective, perseverance, and reverence for being.
We Are Starstuff With Heroes’ Creeds
We are a billion cells
We are fountaining
fountains walking backward
into the future, while now
A star made this pen;
a star uses this ink.
We are fountaining
interstellar dreams –
more than dream,
more than stain.
If perspective is reality,
how many other realities,
really, must we ignore
to go on, to persist
in living this one life?
Like a rainbow,
the ring around the moon
is yours alone.
I see it, too – mine.
What’s yours is yours;
what’s mine is mine.
Even if we’d preferred it
Our personal optical illusions –
reflected light, hexagonal ice crystals,
a 22° halo just for you.
But we’re no angels at these angles.
(Keep Your halo up there.)
We are starstuff with a hero’s creed:
We are fountaining fountains.
We are constant creation.
We are refracted reflected light.
We are miraculous fruition.
Like halos around the moon,
we are rainbows,
each our own,
each other’s illusions,
say a blessing
about promises kept,
eyes wide open.
The above sections were written and prepared before the entirety of the situation in Paris became known, before we knew about the four Jews murdered at the Kosher supermarket, or about Lassana Bathily, the Muslim worker who chose life and saved Jews.
In a matter of a couple of days, 17 innocent people were murdered by Islamic terrorists in the City of Lights — 10 for daring to make fun, 3 for wearing the badge, and 4 simply for being Jews.
My heart goes out to the people of France, to the beautiful city of Paris. I have nothing but hope that from this tragedy things might change and the lights of that city can once again aspire to be beacons for liberty, equality, and brotherhood most of all.