Tag Archives: Poem

A Yom Kippur Reflection

The year has turned and
so far
it looks a lot like this one.
The year has turned and
I want a
moment
to open my arms and send out a
wish.

To you.
Whoever you are.
Wherever you are.
I wish you
peace
in the year ahead.
Peace
in your mind and in your
heart.
Peace
whether you find it in
mountains or
seas or
a cup of coffee or
a hug from a friend.

I wish you
living
today. Right now.
Tomorrow is a new day.
An unknown
day.
Wake with this
one.

And wake well.
Live in peace.
Live well.

B’shalom,

Rebecca Michelle

Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah is Israel’s commemoration of the Holocaust. Shoah, the Hebrew word to describe the Holocaust, literally means “catastrophe.” Most Jewish communities follow suit and also hold ceremonies of remembrance on the 27th of Nissan. The Jewish calendar (and Muslim calendar!) is a lunar calendar so the Gregorian date changes each year. According to the Gregorian calendar, a new day begins at midnight. On the Jewish calendar, however, a new day begins at sundown. In 2016, Yom HaShoah began at sundown on May 4 and will end at sundown on May 5.

This has always been a day that leads me to think about the state of the present world. Today’s world is violent, full of anger and fear and hate, and in desperate need of peace. There are surely a million and one reasons why we are where we are, but I prefer to think about moving forward. Dwelling on the past has brought us our present. I have bigger dreams for the future.

Whenever I’ve taught about the Holocaust, I’ve focused heavily on the roles of bystanders and upstanders (rescuers). Writer Cynthia Ozick highlights the issue of indifference, which I address with my students.

“Indifference is not so much a gesture of looking away – of choosing to be passive – as it is an active disinclination to feel. Indifference shuts down the humane, and does it deliberately, with all the strength deliberateness demands. Indifference is as determined – and as forcefully muscular – as any blow.”

We need to care. We need to care about everyone in the world simply because they are human. We all are human.

I don’t write poetry anymore, but I wrote a poem last night.


I Remember

Today is Yom HaShoah.
Holocaust Remembrance Day.

We must remember because if we do not
who will?

On this day when we choose to remember
let us not talk
of numbers
but instead commemorate
lives.

I remember the people
lost
the dreams
whispered
the hope
undeterred.

I remember the people with stories
songs
books
picture frames.

I remember the people who
helped
hid
harbored.

I remember
Armenia
Bosnia
Cambodia
Darfur
Rwanda.

I remember pain
and anguish.
I remember hate
and horror.

I remember the tears.
I remember the countless trails of tears.

I remember the lives
while I mourn the deaths.
I honor the lives
while I lay the victims to rest.

I remember the lives they cherished.
I remember their fight to preserve
those lives.

Let us talk not only of the past
but of the hope for the future.
Let us not talk of wishes
but let us take action.

For on this day
on every day
it is not enough to remember.

We’ve promised never again
and we’ve remembered
again
and again
and again.

So let us not only talk of the past.
Let us embrace, build, demand
peace
for the future.


There is clearly work to be done.

“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon . .. “

Devoted Harry Potter fans should recognize this quote. Admittedly, I had to look up the book (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), probably because it’s so long that I only read it 7 or 8 times. To summarize, Hermione is berating Harry and Ron for not understanding the very complicated feelings of Harry’s current girlfriend, Cho, whose former boyfriend was murdered by Voldemort.

It popped into my head while I was running today, and I actually started laughing, which should tell you how freaking slow this run was. Remembering Hermione’s “emotional range of a teaspoon” rant led me down a rabbit hole of emotion-related thoughts, and not only because theories of emotions was last week’s topic in DP Psych. At the recommendation of a high school English teacher who later became a colleague, I was 18 when I took the Myers-Briggs and found it to be both accurate and revealing. I’m considering taking it again because I recently heard an NPR podcast about how personality changes over time. Have a look or listen here.

All week I’ve been thinking about the theories of emotion that we study in class. We focused on two, the two-factor theory and the cognitive appraisal theory. In the past, I’ve also taught opponent-process, James-Lange, and Cannon-Bard. (I’ll leave the Googling to you for the last three.)

The two-factor theory states that there is a stimulus (thing that happens), which leads to some kind of physiological arousal (e.g. heart beating faster, palms sweating), which leads to a cognitive labeling of the situation (e.g. “This is amazing and making me happy!”), and concludes with the experience of emotion (e.g. joy). The following is a really useful image:

schachter-singer_two_factor_theory-142f804932851b974aa
Source: http://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/859/flashcards/4458859/png/schachter-singer_two_factor_theory-142F804932851B974AA.png

On the other hand, the cognitive appraisal theory suggests that we experience emotions as a result two types of appraisal, primary and secondary. As you are experiencing an event, you make a judgement about it. Then there is physiological arousal and you experience the emotion, simultaneously. Primary appraisal refers to the significance of the situation, which will impact an individual’s response, and secondary appraisal refers to how an individual feels he or she can cope with consequences, again impacting response.

picture_16
Hint: ANS = autonomic nervous system. Source: https://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/43/flashcards/428043/png/picture_16.png

While all people experience emotions differently, there are common threads to emotions that people identify as either positive or negative. To introduce this topic in class, I had my students choose a particular emotion, either negative or positive, and describe what the brain and body are doing as they experience this emotion. For example, negative emotions (e.g. stress, fear, anger) elicited responses like: sweaty palms, red face, jittery, jumpy, full of energy, argumentative, yelling, dizzy. My students described positive emotions emotions as being: giggly, affectionate, hugging, childlike, optimistic, free, eager, open. Some overlap, we also some common threads in our groups of examples.

On a personal level, I believe that I feel emotions a lot more intensely than most people. My English teacher identified this after my reaction to a reading of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” in class and subsequently suggested the Myers-Briggs. My mum tells stories of my temper tantrums as a kid, some of which I remember. She talks about dragging me up the stairs while I screamed and cried about really nothing, throwing me in the bath to calm me down. I bit a lot of pillows, but my parents only taught me that after noticing bruises on my arms. But I have also woken myself from dreams due to literally laughing out loud. I have done cartwheels down schools hallways (both as a student and as a teacher). I feel the need to hug everyone around me and restrain myself only because that’s not socially acceptable. The first time I was in a serious relationship my heart beat faster than normal for days, I lost my appetite, I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t sleep. Someone once called the range of emotions I feel simultaneously “exhausting.” It can be.

A lot of people feel really intense emotions, and maybe the above is more normal than I think it is. Regardless, I almost always act on my emotions, positive or negative, and that’s been a problem.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to act and react more quietly, at least to the eyes and ears of others. I keep myself almost constantly busy when I’m upset to avoid ruminating because I know how riled up I will be if I let myself do that. A small change, for example, was journaling only once I’d calmed down rather than while I was upset. That can take hours. Sometimes it takes days. By the same token, emotions that are already strong like excitement and passion leave me full of jittery energy for days at a time. These days are usually very productive, despite loss of sleep that comes from said nervous energy, because if I’m moving I can stop thinking.

I have found myself muting my emotions when interacting with others. I’m probably feeling a lot more than I admit I’m feeling, whether those emotions are positive or negative. Maybe this comes from social cues about how much people are supposed to feel at once. Maybe those social cues are inaccurate and, like much of what we do, simply a social norm. And maybe others do sense that I’m not disclosing everything I could be. A friend and colleague in Malaysia describes me as guarded and he was right. Additionally, I wonder if my feelings last for longer than those of other people do. I have also found, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post (What?! Two posts in two days?!) that holding in all of those emotions has been a problem. And I do feel better when I let them out. This, I know, is normal.

What I don’t know is which theory of emotion sounds the most plausible to me. My students struggled with this, too. All are supported with empirical evidence, and therefore disputed based on other empirical evidence. Under some circumstances, I expect I act first and think later (e.g. the time the transmission blew on our boat full of passengers and we were floating in the middle of a river and needed someone on the only dock in that entire section of the river to help us with a line – definitely acted first and panicked later) Under others, however, I react based on how I think I’m feeling (e.g. being chased by lots of dogs while running in Malaysia – terror like I’ve never felt and then running faster than I’ve ever run).

If I’m totally off the mark on this, please let me know! Few feelings? Many feelings? No feelings? Feelings with no names? Comments always welcome.