During the Omer, I’ve been following a bunch of Instagram pages that share daily reminders, with prompts about what sort of character quality each day corresponds to, and questions to check in with yourself about how you’re doing with whatever the thing is.
I am literal garbage when it comes to each and every quality. Love, compassion, discipline – you name it, I’ve failed time and time again. There was one in particular that really got me going; the question was, “Am I pushing away the compassion that Hashem wants to bestow upon me?” Um, YES. Yes I am.
Why? Because I’m scared of what it could lead to (and also I feel like I don’t deserve it). I’d rather cling to the memory that once something good might’ve been on the verge of happening for me than face the reality of everything that comes next. I’m afraid of finding something so precious that to lose it would destroy me. I’m afraid of shouldering the responsibility, afraid I won’t be strong enough to reach the finish line, and so I never start at all.
There’s this short story by Miranda July called “Roy Spivey.” I first read it when it appeared in the New Yorker during the summer of 2007, and I have thought of it probably at least once a week since then.
I have a love-hate relationship with Miranda July. She embodied all that was laughable about mid-2000s hipster culture, but at the same time some of her work really touched me. If I were ever to write a memoir, it would probably be titled No One Belongs Here Less Than You, partly because I think it’s a funny takeoff on her debut short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You but mostly because it is a painfully accurate statement on what it feels like to be me in approximately 97.5% of all life situations. There’s another story in that book, “This Person,” that I have some big thoughts about too, but I don’t think they belong in this post.
Anyway, “Roy Spivey” is about a young woman who ends up seated next to a married movie star on a plane. They hit it off, make a connection, and at the end he gives her his number on a scrap of paper, but with one digit missing at the end, for her to memorize lest the paper fall into the wrong hands. I think the last number was 4.
The woman never calls him, but throughout her life the number 4 becomes a sort of talisman she recites over and over to herself, during sex, while giving birth, on the way to pick up her delinquent child from the principal’s office.
One day, when she’s married and middle-aged, she has this revelation that she was actually supposed to use the number to call the movie star all those many years ago. It was meant to be a real thing, not a signifier of a fantastical alternate life never to be lived.
And I do something similar with all these kindnesses, these fragile, living things that were always meant to take flight but end up dead in my pockets, collected as trophies, as talismans of what could have been.
For a long time it felt like everything was frozen, in hibernation, and now life is moving so fast again. I’m scared. I don’t know how to do this. I wish I could’ve been born one of those people who embraces love fearlessly. But I wasn’t, and I think that, more than anything else, is my test in life.