Wednesday, March 01, 2006

all in all, disconnected

My oldest daughter is a great writer. Not only has she been bestowed with an eloquent and lyrical style, but, more importantly, she has a much rarer gift. At eighteen, she has the ironic, unflinching eye of the writer. She can look at herself in an everyday situation and describe with humor, freshness and unforgiving accuracy, the human drama which is unfolding within and around her.

Here is an excerpt from a post on her blog, (which I will not link to our of respect for her privacy), which she wrote about a year ago.

A subway car is a capsule, a cross section of humanity momentarily crystallized in as inoffensive a setting as stainless-steel and plastic can conjure. Every crevice of society can be seen on the subway at one time or another, the respectable, the questionable, the inconceivable, and all possible contortions of "the other half."

These people fascinate me. A sliver of my mind is always itching with the sizzle of unanswered questions. Who are the people I see on the subway? Why are they there, and where are they going? How did they come to look as they do, as tired or preppy or mentally unbalanced as they do? What does their clothing mean- is it choice, statement or necessity? Where do they live, and what are their livelihoods? When they look at me... what do they see?

I have no regular contact with these masses. Television is about as near as I come, and I am not so naive to imagine that life imitates art as exactly as it likes to pretend. I stare, glassy-eyed at these foreign lives with a swelling concoction of anxiety and fascination, a mist of unfamiliarity tinting and amplifying my curiosity.

Reading this brought me back hard to my own feelings of looking at the world – incomprehensible – through the lens of my childhood. I don’t know if my experiences are similar to my Orthodox readers. But, to me, I couldn’t help to constantly play this very game. Who are these people? How, without laws of modesty or religious norms, did they come to decide what to wear that day? What is important to them, what are their values, what motivates them? Are they happy and purposeful? Are they miserable and lost? What are they thinking about? How do I appear to them?

Sure, I had lots of clues, as my daughter writes about her experience with media. But, even after I had graduated from a secular college, had worked, and had may friends and acquaintances who were secular, the image of their lives remained blurry. Their choices often seemed contradictory to me. Was it really true that they were uninhibited about so many things which I found to be problematic, or were they just blithely clueless? If so, where did their passion for their own causes come from?

By background had instilled within me an innate sense that my moral compass was always pointed true north. But what about them? Did they even have a moral system? Did they even care?

Even now, after my own moral realignment and much more life experience, understanding the “other half” still sometimes requires some calculus. But, at this point, there are many things which I do know about these other passengers with whom we share our world. I have far too much respect for orthodoxy and, certainly, for my children, to wish for them to change their beliefs. But I do wish that the world made more sense to my daughter, and that her being with these people could be more than just a spectator sport.

(This isn’t my daughter’s strongest piece, but I quote it because it does a good job of relating this experience.)


Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

I have often thought the same thing. I am thankful for my orthodox upbringing, especally the aspect that constantly challanges me to examine my values.

BTW, there are few things in life better than a dad who is proud of his little girl.

March 02, 2006 11:43 PM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

I love the writing in the excerpt from your daughters blog.

I have similar feelings on the subway but the usually run more along the lines of: "can I make it out the door without getting too close to the guy with a clear fungal growth emanating from the folds of his jacket", or, "Hell, did that guy just sneeze on me....yes...yes he most certainly just did."

March 07, 2006 1:40 PM  

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