Monday, June 20, 2011

Facing the Hard Truths

Tonight was a wake up call that I have been feverishly avoiding for the past few years; one of those harsh and cruel realities that come up and bite you in the ass when you least want to be facing it. I consider myself so lucky that I have had the blessing, privilege, and honor of growing up with 3 of my 4 grandparents. It is something that not many children get to experience, and for my sister and me, our grandparents are as close to us as our parents are. With only one first cousin (who lives hundreds of miles away), Elana and I have never had to share our grandparents, and for most of our lives they have been our safe havens, our comfort zones, our balance, and our source of light in dark times. As little girls we idolized our grandparents, and to this day, whenever we have needed them, they have always been right there for us; no questions asked.

My grandparents drove up to Sacramento to visit my sister a few days ago, and while they were there the 3 of them got into a little car accident. Though the accident didn't hurt any of them, the stresses of the day, combined with the accident, combined with old age, failing health, lack of food, and lack of sleep, showed a frailty of body and mind in my grandparents (especially my Zayde) that I have scarcely allowed myself to acknowledge. When people are as important to you as my grandparents are to me, you never think that there will be a day when they are not around; a day when you can't just pop over to their house, or call to talk to them when you need to be comforted or are seeking advice.

After the events of today my mother told me the one truth that I have always crushed under the heels of denial. The truth that I know exists, but have refused to believe or acknowledge... The truth that when I leave for Israel I may never see one or more of my beloved grandparents again... When she said it I remained surprisingly composed despite feeling like I had just been punched in the stomach by the boxing champion of the world. It wasn't until I was alone in my room that I let it hit me... My grandparents are all over 80, my Zayde is in end stage renal failure, my muzzy is not in good health, and though my bubby will outlive us all, who knows what her state will be without my Zayde. There is a definite possibility that July 24, 2011 might be the last time I see some or all of them. How does one even comprehend this. How can you make sense of something that makes no sense. These are my idols, my best friends, my heroes. They will always be around; they just have to be...

I've never liked to think about death. To be honest, it scares the shit out of me. The ultimate finality is such a hard thing for me to comprehend. It wasn't until my step brother David passed away that I really started to think about, and understand, that life is so precious, and one day every one of us will have to leave this world. But even with that knowledge, it is still so hard to think of death as something that is so close to you. As both a loved one that has to watch as death takes away those closest to us, to a human being that will one day fall victim to death's claim, it is a reality that needs to be acknowledged, but one that is the most devastating to face.

For a quick moment I thought of not going. How can I leave these 3 wonderful people who might have very limited time left? And then the thought of my Zayde skinning me alive for the mere thought of giving up my life and dreams because he MIGHT pass away (or because any of them might pass away), snapped the thought out of my head. My Zayde is as stubborn as I am and I know he would tell me "I should have died 30 years ago. I have lived a good long life, and I am ready to go." And I know that they have all lived wonderful, long lives, and it would kill each of them if I didn't allow myself to live my own, so that when I'm a fiesty octogenarian I can yell at my grandkids and say "when I was your age I had a choice to live my dreams or skulk around waiting for my grandparents to die, so get your ass on that plane and go do amazing things..." but it still scares me. And so I will enjoy every second with them for this next month, teach them all how to use skype, and pray that they are waiting for me at the airport 15 months from now when I come back home to all of them. And for each of them, especially my Zayde, I will do everything I can to make sure this year is one of the best, most meaningful of my life.

Until next time

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Life Is What Happens To You While You're Busy Making Other Plans

"If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans". These fantastically brilliant words, from the lips of the very eccentric Woody Allen, are all too true, especially in my life (as this post will eloquently illustrate)!

If you know me at all you know that I am completely obsessed with the Middle East region, and am constantly explaining that my Judaism is my identity and my soul, while Arabic is my true love. I mean if it wasn't a blatant lie I would just tell everyone I was a Jewish Arab, and it would be so much less complicated that constantly telling everyone how I came to acquire this obsession with the Arabic language, and Arab culture, though I'm Jewish and blah blah blah. I mean hey I look the part! People in Israel were constantly asking me where in Lebanon I was from (which was a HUGE compliment for me). Anyways, due to my love for the region I was trying to find a good program in the Middle East that would take me to new places and afford me one hell of a travel experience. Initially I had planned on Egypt... Well, referring back to Woody Allen's quote, I planned and God laughed. Soon after I had found a couple decent options in Egypt, protests and demonstrations rocked the land, and though they were nothing short of revolutionary, that was clearly not the place to go if you were an American (and Jewish on top of that).

Ok so Egypt was out. Then I thought well maybe Morocco. It's in North Africa so the Arabic would be a bit different, but it is such an exotic, beautiful place to visit. So, after researching a few programs, and finding one that looked amazing, I decided that Morocco was definitely the place to go. Well again, I planned... God laughed. I contacted the program specifically to inquire about the host families knowing that Arabic was the language I wanted to focus on. I wanted to be sure I could live with a host family that spoke the language. Well that didn't happen. The coordinator wrote me back saying that though most families understand the Arabic dialect, most of them only use French in their homes and with host program participants... Well that was all I needed to hear to know that this program was definitely not the right one for me, and there was really nothing else that would entice me to go to Morocco aside from this program.

Bye bye Morocco... Now where to go? Taking my mother's overactive nerves into consideration, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and well, much of the rest of the Middle East region were really out of the question. Though I was looking for an exotic experience, I wanted to minimize the amount of life threatening situations I put myself in, and being an American, Jewish, female would not have been a great combo for the above mentioned countries. Now I was really at a loss. I wanted to get out of the USA so badly, and wanted to be in the East, but I was just not finding anything that matched up with my travel abroad wants and needs. After much self battling, I decided that I might actually have to go somewhere that was not an Arabic speaking country... DEVASTATION!

Then came India; I had done it. I had found the perfect internship program! I applied through a company that found international internships for post graduates in China and Mumbai, and I couldn't have been happier. This was the exotic, life changing experience I was so passionate about finding. I was accepted to the program , and then told that it would take about a month to place me in an internship in Bollywood. The plan was to head over to India in August and intern for 4 months, and then hope to find work (or get discovered... either one :-p) in order to allow me to stay abroad for 9-12 months. I was FINALLY done searching. Mumbai here I come... O WAIT... Well I had applied and been accepted in December, and told it would take about a month to find my internship placement. Well by May (5 months later), they STILL hadn't placed me anywhere. I couldn't understand what was going on, and all they would tell me was that the bollywood studios were very busy and I wasn't a high priority. That's all fine and dandy, but I was only 3 months away from leaving and I needed to know the plan so I could secure visas, travel essentials, vaccinations, etc. Since I was getting very nervous I decided to see what options were still out there just in case India fell through.

Well all I have to say next is that God must have been hysterical with my India plan, because as I was researching alternatives, I came across a graduate program in Israel that was basically designed for me. It is a program for a Master's in Middle Eastern Studies and Diplomacy, and it requires you to learn both Hebrew and Arabic. Since my life plan is to save the Middle East one day those are two very important languages to learn in my opinion! I only had a few days until the deadline, but I decided to apply just to see what would happen. By the time I got my recommendations in and submitted the application I was two days past deadline, and knew that nothing would come of it. And, what do you know, I was wrong again! about 2 weeks later I got a personal letter from the head of admissions saying that I had been accepted to the program for 2011-2012!!!!!!! I couldn't believe it! How could this happen?!?!? Divine intervention was playing a huge hand in this. As my friend Stephanie said, India was something to hold onto until this came along, but this was really HIS plan for you. In a way I feel like this has always been HIS plan for me; my need to be in the Middle East, my love for the region, the religions, the languages, and my love for Israel. Now not only am I going to get my Master's degree, but I will be studying what I love, learning two languages, and will have the resources to travel all over the Middle East doing research. My classes will take me to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, the Palestinian territories, and Turkey. It was a full circle, but in the end I get to go everywhere I initially wanted to go (and I get a Master's degree to show for it!).

We may not know why things happen the way they do, or we may be impatient and not want to wait around until what we are meant to do comes along, but though it may take months, or years, the things which we are meant to do seem to always unfold and reveal themselves, at least in my case. My path took a great many turns, but I'm going exactly where I need to be, and doing exactly what I need to be doing. It's going to be one hell of a ride, but I now have a gift of 15 months to learn 2 languages, become the first Jewish, American Arabic singer :-), travel all over the Middle East, and begin my journey to instill changes in a region that is as explosive as it is amazing.

And with that I confirmed my acceptance, paid my deposit, and will be leaving July 25th!

Until next time :-),
Jordana Simone