When We Look At One Another

I have two different color eyes. The left one is a bit lighter, the almost-hazel of my mother, with a freckle on the inner, bottom lid. My right eye darker, the rich brown of my father.

My collar bones are not even. The right one juts out a bit further than the left, an unexpected bump on the landscape of my neck.

I’m filled with scars – from tripping down concrete stairs while dancing in new Jelly shoes, two sizes too big; from cigarette ash that fell like comets on my unassuming arms; from the grazing nail of a parakeet that flew past me, oh so close, on an island off of Panama. That one is barely noticeable — but to me, it’s proof of a certain life lived.

My mother went into labor with me when she and her brother were watching the first Superman movie in the theater. Sometimes, when I’m in a certain mood, I like to believe that means something.

When I was eleven years old, I went to a summer program for gifted and talented kids. I barely remember what we did there, except for some class on Greek mythology that I felt especially uncomfortable in. The truth is, I felt out of place that whole summer.

I know how to laugh on command – a deep, loud, contagious belly laugh. Yet for the past twenty years, I’ve been afraid to try.

I’ve done many, many stupid things that totally risked my life. I am not proud of any of them, but in the moment, I felt invincible.

My favorite memory is when I kayaked on some river, late at night, and it started to rain. Pitter, patter, pitter, patter... a symphony of natural wonder that still echoes in my soul.

I love to look at people. I notice flaws, asymmetries, mannerisms, odd resemblances – you name it. I mostly keep them to myself. To me, it’s a private album of quirk and beauty.

I have this thing I do. When I want to remember someone, I gaze at them. Deeply. Intently. And then I recall their faces forever.

The Chassidic man waiting for a bus in Boro Park, his paiyos full of dandruff, his long coat creased, his cheek bearing one small freckle.

The elderly woman standing on the corner of Rochester Avenue and Eastern Parkway, the small hunch in her back, the darker hair on her upper lip, the almost childlike flicker of joy in her eyes.

The young Rabbi sitting across from me, his shirt slightly pulling over his belly, his twinkling eyes and mischievous smile when someone asks him a question, his honesty when admitting how numb we can be to one another.

He’s talking about the Kabbalistic symbolism of the items on the seder plate. Deep stuff. Basically, each element works together to engender a type of exodus for the participant – the pathway to Freedom.

It’s Passover season and the notion of freedom is on everyone’s mind. Yet as the conversation ended and the group began to dissolve, I realized I have no working definition of what freedom ultimately is. Yes, I can give you some neat, spiritual, moving ideas. But what does it really mean to me?

I arrive at home and check on my children, starting with my eldest, asleep so peacefully in his bed. I notice the faint scar on his face from when he was just five weeks old and my long, dangly earring grazed his cheek. I watch his chest rise and fall, his shoulders already wide and broad like his father’s, though he’s only ten. I look at him and see all my hopes and dreams for him. Everything I want him to be. Everything I need to be for him.

And all those things that make him so uniquely him.

And it hits me – perhaps this is freedom?

To break out of the self-consciousness that consumes and shackles us all, and really look at another.

To stop obsessing over ourselves and gaze into someone’s eyes, like we care, like they matter, like we can’t live without them.

To step out of the bitter confines of our self-judgement and connect with all the wonderfully beautiful, yet wonderfully fragmented, people around us. Like the broken, middle matzah, are we not all deeply flawed yet cradled within so much strength and wholeness?

Let us bear witness to one another.

And so, here I am:

I have two different color eyes. The left one is a bit lighter, the almost-hazel of my mother, with a freckle on the inner, bottom lid. My right eye darker, the rich brown of my father….