Friday, December 21, 2007


I approach this post with a sense of purpose, yet wondering if I'll be able to articulate it how I really feel it inside...

I've been thinking about this topic for years. It's been such a significant part of my conscious thought for so long that I don't think I can remember how or when it began to be so important to me. It's only just recently that I've begun to come terms with the entirety of it, but even now I feel like I'm missing something, and maybe someone reading this will have some insight for me.

Here goes....

For reasons I don't fully understand, I've noticed that I gravitate towards certain people. There are some that I'm drawn to, fascinated and intrigued by, so curious about, and I feel like I'm able to resonate with them better than with their peers. They are a riddle to me, and in a way they silently reach out, pleading to be understood, respected, and validated.

These people are those who have suffered. Whose souls have ached. Whose insides have been torn apart. Who have been through the dark and have emerged, sometimes broken, sometimes resolutely bolstered, to tell their stories.

So what is suffering, I ask? What is the defining line that determines who has suffered and who has merely been inconveneinced?

Obviously, there are multiple levels and facets of pain. There is no person alive who has never cried, who has never tasted the bitter tears of loss, never been burned or spurned or wounded. Even small suffering is painful, and thus marginally worthy of being called suffering.
But yet, not every pain can be called suffering, because (to my mind) suffering in it's complete form is something big, excruciating, impassably intolerable. What determines whether or not whatever a person has been through is considered suffering?

Every person has their own pain threshold, their own perception of how great their pain or discomfort is. None of us can ever understand how painful or pleasurable anyone else's feelings are, because we are too removed from eachothers' inner workings. Considering that fact, it is impossible to gauge or measure what we each individually feel on a communal scale. While that doesn't bother me per se, it makes me feel like perhaps I'm feeling things "wrong"... like as much as I can rate my feelings against the other feelings I've felt, maybe I'm interpreting them as different than they are, or they should be...

But it doesn't matter, really. What I feel has nothing to do with what you feel. I may feel strongly about something you don't, but that doesn't make either of us wrong. We are each right in our own contexts and situations. For years I couldn't understand this; for some reason I grew up thinking that there was a right reaction or feeling to every stimulus, and I became increasingly frustrated when I just couldn't find the universal response codes... Comparing myself to others simply made things worse for me because it set unrealistic expectations for my already too-high goal of self-perfection.

By now I've heard the responses more times than I can recall: Each of us is presented with the challenges we can surmount. We are given the tools we need, the resources and facilities to help us in our quest for Answers and Growth. Our struggles are tailor-made for each of us at the exact time and place they're presented to us. They stand at the exact midpoint of our ability to pass them, that very fine line between too difficult for us to pass and too easy for us to work hard enough. Our nekudas habechirah is programmed into our very beings by the One to Whom lies the Knowledge...

But I've also learned something that scares me.

We're told that if our current challenge seems too big, too hard, too impossible, we should rest assured realizing that we're only given what we can handle, and that big challenges indicate big people... He gives us only what we can surmount. All our current challenges and painful times are somewhere in that nekudas habechirah and somehow we have the tools and the abilities and the courage and the strenth to get through them and emerge stronger, better, more beautiful people.

The big people are faced with big problems. Big people can handle big problems. They are strong and brave and capable and will grow bigger and bigger....


But what about those people who are not tested with big challenges...? What about those who are not faced with death, illness, poverty, childlessness, unemployment, handicaps? Does that indicate that they are not strong enought to handle them? That they are...little....?

I suppose I should answer my own question with what I've already said. Each of our individual perceptions of our pain are subjective views that must not and cannot be compared to those of others. Big to me is not necessarily big for you, and vice versa. I cannot gauge my level of suffering based on others' experinces. After all, the Gemara details how merely reaching into one's pocket for change and retreiving the wrong amount is considered suffering, as is the need to have a garment rewoven because it was made too small.... But for some reason it's so difficult for me to accept that my challenges--whatever they happen to be at any given point--are real and big and hard... I need to see that whatever I am presented with now is a huge hurdle for me. ...Corner, these things are big! They're big...believe it...and they're meant for you to grow stronger, better and more beautiful......

And maybe that means I'm big...

For some reason I feel worse having written this. Sometimes blogging lets off steam, but now I think I just made things more tzefloigen in there. I'll post this anyway, though, because maybe someone will have something to say that will help clarify things to me a bit....or a lot....

Please comment :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


From inside the cave...
I am here because I want to be
But also because this is how things are
I am on my own
I cry out
A prayer.

With my voice I cry out, pleading.
Plaintively, distressed,

I declare, whisper the thoughts heavenward.
My spirit is faded, dampened
You know how hard this is for me...
They try to encroach me in peril, lay traps,
Making moving difficult
I want to grow
reach higher
but I can barely walk,
or breathe...

And my comrades...?
I look around,
see none.
Nobody able to help me out of this
Escape seems impossible it?

I have cried out
To You, O G-d
"You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living..."
Please, guide me onto the right path...
Please listen
Heed my muted voice
I have been brought so low...
Slipped, fell...
Rescue me from my demons
for I am so weak against them...

Release my soul from imprisonment
so that I may acknowledge Your name
I want so badly
to be crowned among the righteous ones
when You bestow Your kindness upon me...

The day will come when I will see it...
Until then
I will believe it

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tangle factor


"Hmmm...?" Absentmindedly. Busy reading a college textbook.

I hear thumps up the stairs. Must be Turtle.
"Hey, Corn," Sure enough, Turtle pops her curly brown head into the doorway. "You busy now?"

I gesture at the half-read chapter. "Sort of. What d'you need?"

She unceremoniously dumps a tangled mess onto my book. "Can you unknot this for me? I don't know why, but my necklaces always end up getting messed up."

A subtle thrill tingles through my body. Although I never fully understood why, untangling things has always appealed to me. I find it calming, theraputic, and immensely satisfying. I've watched others give up over facing the tiny metal knots, slippery chains, and painstaking patience and frustration tolerance it requires. Oddly enough, I'm not a particularly patient person, nor do I tolerate frustration too well, but I guess the combo of having the opportunity to use my hands in fine motor coordination and the challenge of a difficult task spurs me to tackle every knotted necklace chain I've ever been acquainted with.

Having deposited her job for me, Turtle goes back downstairs, her "Thank you, Corner!" brightly swishing up as she runs down. I smile to myself and push away the text to make more room for me to work.

I lean close to determine the tangle factor.

Ahhh...a difficult one...5 knots in 3 places, some quite large. Bless you, Turtle, you're a funny one. But good. Bring it on.

But it's harder than I'd thought. The knots are tight. Especailly the bigger ones. Each part of the chain loops around, over, under, through, tightly twining the knots to themselves. Each section of chain that I loosen ends up in turn tightening another one so that the knot just get harder to untangle. Hmmm.... There's gotta be some way to get this done...

Thus begins my lesson of the day.

We're continually faced with challenges. Sometimes we willingly accept them, while other times we try to put them off for as long as we can, but it's always our job and our right to try to meet those challenges that are presented to us.

We appraise the challenge. Look at it from all sides. Assess the damage and determine the tangle factor. And then we tackle it, in whichever form of tackling we choose to use.

And sometimes the tangle is worse than we'd thought. Tighter, trickier, harder to crack. We try to take things slowly, attempt to disentangle each section on its own to see what works, but sometimes that seems to make things worse. Frustration builds. We entertain the thought of giving up.

But...Hmmm..... There's gotta be some way to get this done...

Sighing, I put the knotted mess aside. I lean back in my chair and flex my cramped fingers.
When it comes to chains, I'm not easily deterred, but this one is simply impossible. I'd tried everything. All the tricks that worked the last time didn't work now. All the tried and true methods were failing me. I felt discouraged, frustrated.

But then it hit me.

It's supposed to be like that.
If each challenge contained the same difficulty level, there'd be no work involved. We wouldn't have to exert ourselves. We'd go through the motions and *poof*--problem solved. We wouldn't get frustrated. But.....we also wouldn't grow.

The challenges we're presented with are personally designed for us each time they're given. We are supposed to use some of the methods we'd learned from last time, and also some new methods that we need to make up specially for the new challenge at hand. Somehow, that proccess of coming up with novel ideas helps us develop into more complex and special people.

And we don't always need to do it alone. Sometimes we're allowed to call in professionals who can steer us in the right direction. There's no sin in taking a particularly stubborn knot to a jeweler if that's what will work best. But it's not okay to give up because that knot is too hard for us to handle by ourselves.

And sometimes all that's required of us is to put that knot aside for a little while. Rest our cramped fingers. Take a cleansing breath. We don't need to take care of everything in one day. I've learned the hard way that at times rushing will only make things worse. Steady, slow hands and a clear head are the only things that can work.

I breathe deeply. Look around the room. Notice the sun has traveled across the carpet to the doorway, filling the room with golden warmth. I walk to the window, stepping over some unfiled papers that are silently entreating me for attention. A little voice inside me soothes, "'s okay to take a little breather..." The trees outside are almost bare. Just a few sunny leaves still stubbornly clinging to the branches. Sunshine trees make me smile. I watch the last leaves, drinking in their vibrance like a thirsty child.

Feeling slightly more full inside, I turn back to the task at hand. The knots are still there. Running away from a problem never accomplishes anything.

I let out a breath. Turn on the desk lamp. Focus.

I pull a strand. Nope. Another. It gives, but not enough to come loose. I keep at it, methodically trying each exposed bit of chain, hoping to find the one that will release the rest.

And then,
I find it.
Slowly ease it out. Pulling, not too hard, but enough to make it slowly slip out, link by link.

And from there, other tangles come loose. New sections of chain are exposed, now ready to be worked on. The satisfying feeling creeps up. I can do it...I'm doing it...It's working...

Sometimes all we need is to take a little break. To pause for a moment, or an hour, or a day, or a few months, so that we can reflect and rejuvinate and come back to our challenge with renewed vigor.

Every challenge is designed to be overcome.

Every test is meant to be passed.

Come on, can do it... I can do it...

"Hey, Turtle! Come on up, I've gotten it out..."