Tonight is Erev Rosh Hashanah, the eve of the Jewish new year. We are celebrating 5781 journeys around the sun. These are 5781 journeys of love and loss, peace and war, fear and joy, hopelessness and solace.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve had such a strange six months that I’m not feeling the familiar ache to be with my family that I usually experience around the High Holy Days. I felt that ache acutely for weeks and weeks and perhaps I’m just accustomed to it now. I think the unprecedented life we’ve all been living is what has actually left me quite calm about my plans to welcome the new year quietly and with reflection rather than attending socially distant religious services in a normally communal environment.

Given everything, it seems fitting to begin a new year taking explicit action at making the world a better place – the world needs it. This is why I decided to go to the blood bank right after school. The queue both inside and at the door indicated that I was not the only one feeling the need to act and it was heartening to be in the company of so many strangers.

As I walked slowly home from the bus stop, I felt the strength of my heartbeat and I felt it working hard. The world needs us to work hard – it will not heal on its own.

As this year flows into the next my wish is, as always, for peace. Peace among friends, among strangers, with the earth, water, and air. And my commitment is to take actions to achieve it. I welcome all to join me.

Shana tovah u’metukah.

Auckland, New Zealand – December 2018

Waiting for the Rain

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with a visual arts class about the reconstructive nature of memory. This came at a time when I was reeling from two nights of nightmares, the sort in which the dreamer is screaming, screaming, and no one hears or even looks up. I did not remember the content of the dreams when I awoke.

The mind is a powerful place.

I thought about this on my run later in the afternoon, a run that I didn’t want to go on but I know my mind and body well. Not wanting to go due to mental fatigue meant that the right thing to do, without question, was to go.

As it was, the gathering clouds beckoned. The wind blew in a way that hinted at a gift of cool afternoon rain but that could, in the tropics, blow over and leave us with nothing at all.

I watched my mind as if from a perch high above the treetops as I ran along the canal. I watched it growing negative, judgemental, downright nasty in its commentary of the strangers passing by. And I laughed because I understood – because I knew.

What I criticized in others was precisely what I feared in myself.

The sequence of thoughts did not come as a surprise – after all, I know my mind and body well. It was easy to draw a line from a book I’d read to the dreams I’d had to the venom my mind conjured. Easy because I’d been there before.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived a very long time.

And I laughed when the sky darkened further and the wind danced through the trees. A child again, I danced with it.

At the end of my run, I spent a few minutes stretching in the park. And that was when it began to rain.

And that was when I felt my mind breathe again.

The view from Lazarus Island – July 2020

Ask and Answer

With four weeks of school already gone, I’m taking a moment to reflect on the passage of time. It has been five months since Singapore’s circuit breaker and just over eight months since a new virus came into our world. I am in my fourth consecutive year in Singapore and my tenth year as an educator.

Time goes. It just goes.

This is why it is important to be aware that every single day makes a difference. Every day is a chance to be in the world, to breathe fresh air, to taste our food, to feel our bodies move, to smile at a stranger, to make a new friend. We have so many opportunities to ask questions, have conversations, learn something new, help those in need and those around us, and make choices that make the world a better place.

I recently learned the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”. This was a pivotal moment for me and I can already see its impact on the way I make decisions. Simply knowing this is both powerful and frightening. Framed like this, the answers to some difficult questions become so obvious that they are impossible to ignore. And yet accepting those answers is as scary as asking the question in the first place.

What would my world be had I learned this question half a lifetime ago? How would those years have shifted, woven, and been shaped into a life I’ll never know? What worlds might have been built within that time?

Even more to the point: What’s next? For that matter, what is now?

Times goes, but first it is ours.

We have all recognized at this point that the luxury of normal is indeed a luxury. Predictability is a luxury, a thing of the past in some very stark ways. I wonder which habits of mind we will return to when normal returns – because it will. History tells us that it always has. And I wonder which former habits of mind we will discard in favor of new ones that we’ve learned and adopted.

We have just completed the fourth week of this school year. It is unprecedented, but so is the last. These are four weeks that we never envisioned existing as they are, four weeks that very easily might not have looked like this, and might change still. We are all asking questions and getting used to a reality of few answers.

But if I have learned anything, it is that the unknown will always be unknown. We can never know what it holds or looks like, and this is not unique to the present snapshot in time. I have learned that we won’t even know we’re there until that’s what there is. And I have learned what truly is constant. The trees still stand tall. When the world seems to be spinning out of control, I now know what I can cling to and what will not let me go.

Just over a year ago, I hesitated to buy a couch because I didn’t want to be anchored anywhere. I didn’t want to own an object that might hold me down. And now I realize it is not the couch holding me down but my own fears of what might be out there in the unknown.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I’d close my eyes and jump.

Lake Taupo, New Zealand – December 2018

Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by someone trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place