White Girl Goes to Iftar (Ramadan)

happy-Ramadan-2012-1-1024x640
(This picture is a wish of a happy Ramadan. I didn’t make it, but I like it.)

I’d been working on blogs to post, trying to manage how much frustration I have and how much stress when my roommate asked if I wanted to go with her to iftar. I thought, sure why not and agreed. She responded for both of us and last night we left. I now get to do something I absolutely LOVE doing: I get to break some assumptions and stereotypes and tell you all about my time at iftar.

So some vocab first. Ramadan is the Islamic holy month where you fast during the day hours and eat during the night. You can’t even drink water! Iftar is the name of the meal that you eat after the day is concluded. The fasting is done for two reasons: the first being to honor the gifts of God and to be closer to him. The second is to remember that there are people for whom fasting is not a choice, but rather is their way of life. And so for the month, you honor the struggle that they face in poverty.

I also learned two Arabic words last night: mashallah and inshallah. Mashallah is a kind of protective prayer, said especially over babies which roughly translates to “May God protect you (from the evil eyes)” and inshallah means “God willing”. So if you are traveling or what have you, you say inshallah as a way of wishing them safe travels and the hope that you will be seeing each other again if God wills it.

So now that we’ve got the vocab down, it’s time to get the stigmas and stereotypes broken.

  1. It snows in Turkey. And it isn’t just a desert. They have greenery and whatnot too. (I asked, just because we were talking about silly Ohio weather. Turns out Turkey has regular seasons of 3 months each: Spring, Summer, Autumn Winter. Ohio has maybe two seasons: winter and fiery death by humidity. I just thought this was cool.)
  2. I didn’t have to remain silent when Muslim men were speaking. They usually spoke right to me. And made eye contact. Everyone was EXTREMELY polite and made sure that everyone else around them was doing well. (In fact, the fact that I was getting an education was a source of celebration for everyone. So that debunks the women as inferior bit, I think.)
  3. The prayers that are spoken (we were invited to watch) are prayers of thanks for health, food and opportunity. There is a reverence for being able to live life and for being safe. (We sat through one, and one of our acquaintances was kind enough to translate it for us.)
  4. The hijab (head scarf) is optional. You can choose to wear it if you want, and most women do because it is a way to further their faith. (Which debunks the oppression myth, I think.)

I asked a new acquaintance what the one thing she wanted others to know about her and her religion and she said:

Even if I say nothing, I am still saying something. I have hopes and goals and a family. I am shy and don’t make friends quickly but I love practicing my English. I have a very open mind, and I want to learn all about other people. I wish more people saw that my actions speak louder than my words. I just want to be respected for being myself.

We continued to talk about her story and about how she was so thankful to be in America, where people didn’t hate her for who she was and for what she believed. Reread that. She was thankful to be in a country of acceptance. I met a family who was from Istanbul-whose family was still in Istanbul. They were appalled by the violence there, and by everyone who falsely represented their religion.

In fact, the theme of the night was that education would defeat ignorance if we invested in it. I’ve been to around a dozen or so Christian churches, known people from all of the different factions (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, etc) and I’ve met Catholics, I’ve met atheists and I could continue on. But never once have I ever felt so welcomed as an outsider than this gathering of the Turkish-Muslim community.

Allow me to reflect on that for a moment.

This group of people who were mostly immigrants or the children thereof welcomed two strangers into their holiday observation as though we were family. They celebrated our education, our career goals and our ideas and opinions without judgment. I looked nothing like the people in attendance, nor did we sound similar but that didn’t hinder their regard of me. In fact, I heard more about how we should find ways to include things like humor in our teachings, about how we should find community in art and food instead of fear and hatred. These people who didn’t know me made me coffee, gave me food and showed a sincere interest in what I had to say-even if I just ranted about how much I didn’t know.

Do you want to know how I get treated at Christian churches? Like a sinner not worthy of their time. And I want you to know that I told the people last night that I was pagan. That I practice a polytheistic religion. I’ve said that to Christians before (who are strangers) and I get the “devil” treatment or I get the shove-the-bible-down-my-throat treatment. Do you know what the Muslim women and men told me last night? That they were glad I came with an open mind and took the time to get to know them even though we believed different things. I left with invitations to return for women’s nights, cooking classes and art sessions, as well as many hugs.

Last night was an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I may not have all the information I need in order to fight the bigotry and hatred shown by others, but I have my own experience and it’s a great start. Before I wrap everything up though, let me talk about one last thing.

COFFEE.

cups

Let me tell you. This wasn’t our specific cup, but the decoration is gorgeous on all cups. And the thing is, I’m 23 and I felt like I was holding the crown jewels when I picked up my cup. It’s all so beautiful. And they’re traditional espresso sized, so I also felt like a giant.

cup2.jpg (This is closer to the color-the decoration was roses though.)

As an American, a white girl, a college kid, a twenty-something, you all should not be surprised when I say that I am a regular at Starbucks, I drink coffee until I float in it and anyone who has been to my house knows that there’s always creamer in my fridge and coffee in my percolator. But when I woke up this morning, I couldn’t drink the cup I made myself. It tasted like dirty water in comparison to the coffee I was graciously made last night.

The woman who invited us made us fresh Turkish coffee last night. If I had the ability to make it everyday and it would taste like that, I would never buy creamer again. Let me be very clear, I hate black coffee. It has to have at least creamer in it, if not something else. And the coffee she made us last night was the very first time I have ever drank coffee black and enjoyed it. I didn’t even add sugar.

Apparently, if there’s bubbles and foam at the top, that’s how you know it’s a good cup. And when you are all done, if you turn your cup upside down, swirl it three times and let it set, you can tell your future. (I so tried it, but no one knew how to read it, nor did anyone believe so we made up stuff and got a bunch of laughs.)

coffee reading.jpg(Again, not my cup, but this is basically what it looks like when you’re ready to read it.)

I’ll leave you with a custom.

When a man is inquiring after a wife, he will bring his family to the woman’s house and the woman will serve them all coffee. She will hold out the suitor’s coffee and put in it salt, spices or other items which would not be for coffee (tomato paste, oil, etc). If the man drinks the entire coffee, it shows his devotion to the woman and his desire to marry her is deemed genuine. Apparently it’s very good for comedic relief, as oftentimes the man will make faces to get through the taste of the coffee. It’s meant as a joke, but also as a way to prove your love.

I rather like that. Apparently there are some really funny stories-so I’m going to go around asking people about their coffee ceremony stories from now on.

Thanks for reading. I had a lot I wanted to say, and it was just so wonderful. (I have plenty more to say as well, but another day perhaps.) For the first time, I wasn’t afraid of strangers, I felt accepted. And it wasn’t at all like how the news reports. All I saw were a bunch of people happy to eat food and pray, happy to share their stories with strangers, happy to be listened to and respected. I can’t say I’d want for anything else.

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Stacy’s Mom, Strong Coffee and Wintermageddon

Making it through the day is never more frustrating than when you wake up to two inches of snow and it’s raining ice. (I know, that was my first thought too.) The first several moments are the ones which set the tone for the rest of the day. And I thought that waking up this morning would be a little easier. I had known it would be snowing, I figured it would just continue to be powder and that it would be a relatively easy to get to work today. I mean, a little snow couldn’t keep me down (thanks Chumbawamba!). And that’s when I remembered that I’d been meaning to put a blog out. I wasn’t sure of the topic, but when I set up for the day and “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne came on, I knew what I wanted my blog to be about: the ever pressing issue of time.

Mostly I try to look forward, look ahead. I mean, the past has finished, and in the words of the great philosopher Rafiki (which means “friend” in Kiswahili if you wanted to know-I took 3 semesters of the language in college!):

 

(I own NO rights to Disney-I just needed the quote.)
I mean, those of you who know me in person probably also know that I will be graduating from law school in 2020, and being that I am very excited, will be walking to get my diploma in a flapper dress, and celebrating the entire day with Jazz music and the like. I literally love that the culture of the 20s will be able to be repeated in a modest sense (I hope there’s less racism and mobsters and not so much prohibition, but you know…) Anyway, so I’m very excited about the whole “Roaring (20)20’s. But I think for the moment, we need to look back with a purpose.

“90’s Kids”

If you were a 90’s kid-and I want to clarify this-if you were a child during the 90’s, NOT necessarily just having been born in the 90’s, there are some similarities we all cling to. But this isn’t just your “Things 90’s Kids Will Remember” list. This is an honest look into the 90s, as written by someone who spent almost the entire decade alive. Which means I was the young end of the 90’s, but I had access to a bunch of stuff from the 80’s as a child and therefore it counts. (I’ve proven my worth to many 80’s-born adults-it counts.)

If you look at the paragraph above, you’ll notice that I’ve typed “90’s Kids” pretty much every time I referred to the age group. However, if you look at the people who were aged 6-18 by 2000, you’ll be quick to realize that that age group is now 22-34 and we are hardly children anymore. But the moniker sticks. No one ever says “90’s generation”, “90’s born” or really anything you can think of except “90’s kids”. And why is that, you ask? That’s my point of discussion for today. But in order to discuss that, we need to get into the culture differences between back then and now, as well as some key points. That’s what I meant by “this won’t be a list necessarily, but it’s all basically relevant.” So, here goes nothing.

The 90’s were a time of revolution. There were changes to the pop culture scene, entertainment and social realms which trace their beginnings back to that specific decade. Other trends were merely a continuation of ones which had come before. But for better or for worse, the 90’s are a part of our history. For this analysis, I will need the help of:

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Nokia, Drew Barrymore, Christina Ricci, Ever After, The Addams Family, Cinderella (with Whitney Houston), The Dark Angel and The Baby Sitter’s Club. Honorable mentions include: slap bracelets, The Oregon Trail and Lisa Frank.

If you cannot finish the line: In West Philadelphia born and raised… I question the validity of your belonging to the decade. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a staple for the 90’s. But it was also something different. It was humor centered around a respectable family of color. They worked hard, acted just like many families in the 90’s and it was funny in such a way that it was not inherently racist. So why is it worth the mention it? Because in a time when #BlackLivesMatter and the apparent panic over Beyonce’s Super Bowl show, it reminds us of a time when it was entirely okay to be like everyone else and be entirely different-at the same time. Although some things are now a little dated, honestly, this one is worth the look-back for the humor, the realism and the wistful vision of how sometimes family is enough to make everything better. And you know what is even better? Comedy that is funny for the sake of funny, not because it s so abrasive that you laugh because you’re uncomfortable. Seriously, the language was pretty decent, I think that there is much to be said for humor that doesn’t have to be vulgar.

 I’ve posted about Buffy before on my “role model” blog, but I mention her again for good reason. In a time before Harry Potter Hermione Granger, you would be hard pressed to find a stronger TV woman than Buffy, and I don’t mean physically. She had reasonable flaws (like a lazy streak when it came out studying) but sh was also very protective of her family, her friends and on several occasions even her enemies. And yes, there is the issue of Buffy+Spike, but apart from that, Buffy was written in such a way that you related. You wanted to go after school and work on your slayer abilities (or become a Wicca!). It wasn’t only really relatable for viewers, Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) cried so hard when Angel said goodbye officially, that if you listen closely enough, David (Angel) says “Sarah” instead of “Buffy”. She believed in her character. And that is so hard to find nowadays. So why is this worth the mention? Because not only is it representative of the 90’s culture, it’s a TV show about a FEMALE lead with realistic attributes (and body size!) but also with friends who are equally as complex. In a time when feminism still gets a bad rap, we should take heart that there is an entire generation of voting age, working adults who grew up with Buffy and learned how to treat themselves and others as equals. Buffy was also a high school girl-who actually looked like a high school girl. I mean, today they look like 29 year old super models. (Also, Joss has remained active in Hollywood-check him out!)****I will add The Dark Angel here, because it was a TV show about a female lead as well, but I think Jessica Alba’s character is really the beginning of hyper-sexualization in TV heroines. She gets an honorable mention for the fact that her show was really about a female main character who really was pretty capable of being on her own, but the thing is that she had a leather outfit kind of like Catwoman and it really just looked sexy-not functional.

The Baby Sitter’s Club brings up a really great set of memories of my own. I went through 2 younger siblings, being entrusted by my parents to babysit as deemed safe and appropriate from the time I was about 7. They didn’t leave me alone to do so until I was about 12, but I also went to babysitting class and learned CPR and that stuff. I remember when my sister was born, my parents were ultra protective, but by the time she was able to crawl, she was taking naps on this HUGE mattress. I was asked to watch her overnight (we shared a bedroom for YEARS) and let my parents know if she started crying.I was so concerned that she would wake up and I wouldn’t hear it that little 7 year old me stayed up ALL night. My sister slept all night, as a matter of fact. My mom laughed at my predicament and told me that I hadn’t needed to stay up all night and that my sister would have been okay (she was about a year at that point). My first job was babysitting at the age of 13, and I continued to do so until I got into college. So why mention the BSC? Because in this day and age, it is increasingly difficult to have a child of the age of 13 be emotionally and mentally mature enough to handle babysitting-even just one child (At 15 I was watching 3 boys under the age of 10). And what’s scarier is the number of people aged 14-17 who are parents. But that’s a topic for another day I suppose. Anyway, my main point is that the BSC made babysitting cool, and all the girls were young like I was.

  

I’m going to combine the next set of movies/TV shows into one umbrella category called “freedom of self”. Now of course, I know that Ever After and Cinderella are basically the same theme, but The Addams Family goes here too. Cinderella, the one with Whitney Houston (may her soul rest in peace), was a novel idea when it came out. Why? Because Cinderella, her godmother and the Queen were all women of color. The Prince was Filipino (if I’m not mistaken), the King and his servants were all white, as were the Stepmother and the stepsisters. Why mention race at all? Because Cinderella traditionally is an all white cast. The direction of this movie was done with the talents in mind, not their skin color. Ever After is my FAVORITE adaptation. I love Drew Barrymore (we’ll get to her) in general, but in this version, Cinderella saves herself. She escapes based on her own determination and will-power. And there’s factual historical moments included in it too. The Addams Family (with Christinaa Ricci) and more specifically Values, was a move that made it entirely okay to be different. Christina played Wednesday who stuck out of camp like a sore thumb, but made a friend out of the other “outcast”. And that’s the thing. Why should we pay attention to these? Because no matter your color, your IQ, your color palette preferences, how much you love to read, you can always find someone else who feels as alone as you. But if you just believe in yourself, that’s all that really matters. No woman needs to wait on a “knight in shining armor” when she can pick up a sword and battle her way to freedom.

Drew Barrymore and Christina Ricci should be on every list of awesome things about the 90’s for one reason: their strength. And again, I’m not talking about their physical strength, I’m talking about their emotional and mental strength. They both were involved in some pretty self-destructive behaviors-drugs, alcohol, self-harm, but they pulled out of it. Making steps to their own personal freedoms was not easy, but they did it and look more fabulous than ever. Why bother to mention them? Because they are real life heroines who show strength and a capacity for self-improvement. I’ll include them in my list of role models. Because I’ve always looked up to the people who can take their lives and turn them around to make something better for their future. Plus, these two ushered in the grunge scene. Which, if you wanted to know is making a comeback. Does that mean we will return to punk, goth, emo, scene and then the hipster movement? Well, what goes around comes around, so maybe.

   

 

The last thing I want to bring up is the technology revolution. I mentioned Nokia above, and I wanted to maybe explain why we are still called (and self-refer as) “90’s kids”.

 

  (This is a Motorola i530 from 2004. It was my mom’s first cellphone and thusly the first cellphone in our home.) The first “cell phone” was sold in 1982 for $4,000USD. The ones which are affordable and stuff were sold in the 90’s. I’ve taken some screen shots so we can remember how far we’ve come.

  
  
If you notice up above these pictures, under the “Bumblebee phone” I typed the caption that that was my mother’s first phone in 2004. I’m only guesstimating, but I think it was closer to 2005. But the point still works. I was over a decade old before cellphones were a commonplace thing in my childhood home. I didn’t get my first one until I was a freshman in high school-when I took the job babysitting three boys. But that means that developmentally, I lived in the 80’s most of my life. I had tin-foil wrapped TV antennae, I played in the water hose which came from our well, and rarely spent any of my time watching TV. We never owned a gaming system and I bought my first iPad last year. Now, what’s that got to do with my main point, you ask?

Everything.

As a child in the 80’s, technology was sparse. And it continued to be so until 2000, making that generation at minimum 20 before the technology boom. They lived their childhoods with the sparse st of entertainment (of the electronic kind) and their adulthood was marked by technology. 

As a child in the 2000’s, technology was abundant. New waves of technology crop up, children are raised with iPads and leap pads and child-computers so that they can be fully functional techno-savvy adults. Their whole lives will be marked by technological advances.

So what of the 90’s kids? If you, like me, were basically brought in with the new decade, the first half of your childhood was very comparable to the 80’s. There was TV, your parents told you to play outside and if you wanted to hang out with friends, t was in person. Usually your friends had siblings and you basically always had to either chauffeur and chaperone or were chauffered and chaperoned by those siblings. But then 1995 hit and technology became easily accessible to the general public. Telephones were no longer connected to a landline, emails and instant messaging took off. Essays now had to be typed instead of written in cursive and you suddenly had access to pop culture from other outlets besides TV. And so, you are both in both worlds and excluded from them. Your childhood was ripped in half by the great divide that is technology. Instead of fitting in with the older crowd, you are teaching them how to use the new updates to their fullest advantage. Instead of fitting in with the younger crowd, you feel your maturity and mannerisms are outdated and therefore make you too old to relate. So I will ask again, what of the 90’s kids? Well, that’s just it.

The 90’s kids are a subculture all their own, intent on reclaiming the half of their childhood that was lost. We see Disney movies repeatedly (singing along and pointing out the flaws), while settling in for a glass of wine (red-for the antioxidants). We reach for the Atari games when COD is on the Xbox (because Atari is like the Solitaire of consoles-it’s a classic). We are hopeless romantics, while being incredibly feminist (because we like having the option to be taken care of but know that we can rely on ourselves as independent individuals). We are passionate about others because we grew up in a time of superheroes and super heroines who sacrificed themselves for the greater good. We watch older shows and listen to older music because they remind us of a time when entertainment meant something and wasn’t just to make the producers money. We feel strongly about our beliefs, even if they differ from everyone else. And we remember the greatness of Saturday mornings, ensuring that we value the weekend forever. We enjoy working hard when it’s noticed. We take our futures seriously, even though it seems that no one takes us seriously. And above all, we’re just trying to figure out what it all means. We are the generation of idealists, of thinkers, of planners. We are the generation of confused, adult-children with no idea who we really are or how we are going to succeed. We are the generation that was stolen. And it’s time we reclaim our place.

   
 

The Day I Found Out What it is to be a WOMAN

  

Today I was going to blog about eating disorders, but then I had an experience that changed my entire outlook on life-and all that it means. While I do not have everything figured out, I need to explain a lot of background first.

I’m taking a lot of “human” classes this semester. Human Variation (or the study of genetic differences in humans), Communication Theory (how humans communicate with each other),Women and Democracy (how women come into play in things like government, politics, and social contracts) and Human Sexuality (the theory and practicality of humans and sex). And there is a lot of overlap in these classes, namely in what it means to be a woman in several contexts. Now, having lived my entire life as a woman, I thought I knew most everything. I carry my keys like weapons, I have a self-imposed curfew, I know what it means to vote, how the basics of government is run (thanks to my high school government teacher!) and other bits and bobs I’ve picked up over the years. But I have been incredibly fortunate to never be in a position where my power over self if compromised. And that is where today comes into play.

Now, a note before I continue. ***This is the most easy going, least violent way possible that my power over self was compromised. And I want to explore the thought process behind it more than the actions.I am NOT AT ALL comparing this to situations where bodily autonomy is forcefully taken away in any capacity. I just want to talk about the thought process, as I said.***

I went to the mall with my husband, because we were out today anyway and I wanted to walk around. I enjoy the mall, often find little things to pick up and usually find it a fun place to be. As we were getting ready to leave, a woman at a kiosk stopped me and handed me a free sample. Not wanting to seem rude, I took it and said thank you. She asked if I had a moment, to which I replied we (my husband and I) were already running late and I couldn’t stay. She said it would only take a moment and so I followed her to her station. She asked me to sit down so she could show me her line of hair straighteners. I have hair down to my shoulder blades, and I NEVER use straighteners or curling irons on it. My hair is so thick that it has a mind of it’s own and several stylists have refused to work with it because of that. I’ve dyed my hair so much that it fries my hair too hard to straighten anyway. So she inquired about the colors and told me her straightener didn’t damage hair and was a 2-in-1 product. 

I didn’t want to seem rude, so I silently took down my hair and let her show me.

I could see the steam, I could feel the heat and although I was fidgeting uncomfortably the entire time, I said nothing. My husband watched patiently. She put clips in my hair and I felt trapped. I had planned on just bolting, but I didn’t want to run away with her clips in my hair. So as she kept talking, I sneakily took the clips out and laid them on her station. She kept talking jovially about how my hair was so soft and she took the comb up my hair to frizz it and then tried to calm my cottonballs hair once more. She stopped for a moment, having done about a fourth of my hair and asked what my favorite color was. I barely made eye contact with my husband before I said: 

“I told you I was running late. Thank you.” 

And I ran away as fast as my shaking legs would carry me.

Now, afterwards, I met up with a friend (who works a kiosk) and explained to her what he happened. I also found out that my husband had been listening to my pleas of self-confidence and hadn’t wanted to barge in and make it seem like he was in control of me (which I thanked him for). My friend said she’d also had a similar experience and that she had bought one of the hair straighteners for $250!!!!! She then told me that it really does burn your hair and isn’t worth the price.

As we were leaving the mall, my husband made the astute observation:

They didn’t have a sink, wipes or sanitation instruments. When did they wash the combs and clips? What if I got lice?

So we had a deep, philosophical conversation on our way home about all this and that is when it hit me.

I’d been in an uncomfortable situation because I didn’t want to seem rude. And instead of immediately getting out of it, I stayed put because I thought:

I sat down and this is all my fault. I got myself into this mess and now I have to deal with the consequences. And on top of all that, I didn’t want to be there, but now I might have a parasite.

I feel like I just stumbled onto the key of understanding. While I may not know and understand the full implications of being held against my will, I now understand why women feel like they have to blame themselves for the bad things that happen. This is where our culture is letting down women. We are teaching them that it’s to be expected that being polite at our own expense. We are expected to internalize the blame, even if it really isn’t our fault.

And for the record, my hair IS burnt. And it smells like vanilla got lit on fire and then sprayed onto my hair. My hair is a disaster . If I do end up with lice, I’ll be finding a lawyer. Because I may not have violently said no, but I never asked to have my good health in jeopardy.

The Science of You…and Me.

I’ve been trying to get acclimated to the new semester, and I think it’s okay to take a break from constantly ranting and raving. Today, I want to speak honestly about life. But the stuff that weighs on my heart is the issue of self-identification.

In one of my classes this semester, we’re discussing classifications of organisms (as a prequel to the rest of the material) and the question was asked: Why do we classify things? The answer was: to order a chaotic world. I think that for the most part, that’s pretty true. But I think we, as human beings, also want to belong. We have a sense of longing to be part of something greater than just our own individuality. And maybe that seems a little naive, but maybe it isn’t.

  

I think I’ve mentioned this a couple times throughout the life of my blog, about where do I as an individual fit in to life’s big puzzle. But I invite you all to also think about it. How do you identify yourself? Is it just through your name? Your preferences? Your associations? What about who you are as a single individual, without regard to someone or something else? How would your identification change? It’s no difficult task to put yourself in a category. It’s an entirely other matter to design the category that you alone fit in.

Allow me to demonstrate. I am a pretty much run-of-the-mill midwestern woman. I tie my hair up in ponytails, I drink coffee, I know how to shovel snow, care for sick animals and even how to field dress carcasses (I really don’t enjoy it though, but if the great earth mother gives unto us, it is disrespectful to waste that gift. And I try not to partake either.). I am a wife, a cat-loving-dog-owner (he’s my little cat-dog), a sister, a daughter, a student, an employee and a coworker, a friend, a dreamer, and I’d say most definitely an extroverted introvert (yea, I know. It gives me problems too.). But take away anything that has to do with someone else (so-daughter, wife, sister, worker, etc) and take away the references to religion, geography, capabilities and preferences. What is left?

I call that “left” stuff the essence of me. But I don’t really know what it is. Is it emotion? Because I have quite a bit of that. Is it personality? I think I have a decent amount of that too. Is it what I am made of? Atoms, cells, blood, skin, organs, memories? I mean, I suppose that would have to be included. So what am I that no one else is? I am me and you are you. And I couldn’t be you if I tried, but I wouldn’t want you to be me either.

I know, you were all expecting for the meaning of life. And I shan’t disappoint! Because each and everything that I have said is both true and false. And I hope you’ve stuck around long enough to see why.

In the very beginning of time, before history, before science, before everything we know, there were stars. And these stars grew until they could grow no more, exploding when they reached their peak. When these stars explode, they create a bunch of atoms, in the order of the periodic table. First Hydrogen, then Helium, then Lithium, Beryllium, and so on and so forth until at least Iron (which is the 26th element). Each atom mixes with the others, out in space, combining and pulling apart. Now why am I telling you this?

  

There is a law in science called the Conservation of Energy. Now, in science, a law means that hundreds, if not thousands of test have been done and for all intents and purposes, the law is a scientific fact. This is why no one disputes gravity-even though you can’t see it directly. Anyway, the Conservation of Energy can be simplified down to the following: no energy can be created or destroyed in a system. There is also the law of the Conservation of Mass. This also is simplified down to: no mass (the stuff everything is made of) can be created or destroyed in a system. So what does that have to do with anything?

Well, we know that a human is made up of a lot of water, but what else? If you look at the most common elements that a body is made up of you get: Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium, Chlorine and Magnesium. Now if you look at a Periodic Table of Elements, you’ll see that those elements are numbered: 8, 6, 1, 7, 20, 15, 19, 16, 11, 17 and 12. Iron, as I said is 26, which means that all of the elements that make up most of us come before Iron. That further means that the stars that exploded made the elements I have listed here.

  

If I haven’t lost you yet, I’m very glad! Because the laws I mentioned, they come into play here. Since absolutely nothing can be made or destroyed, the atoms (which make up the mass of everything) which make up you and I came from the explosions of the stars. So here’s the deal. We are all made up of the little tiny particles which first originated in stars. So when you hear people say “We are stardust”, believe them. Because although this information is all paraphrased from other sources, it remains true. And just incase you wanted to know more about the meaning of life, let me explain death.

Before I really go on, let me tell you a story (you know that’s my thing!). I once went to a funeral of a family member and sat in the back, just observing. I watched the widow sit in the front row, the handkerchief crumpled in her hands, her eyes puffy and red from crying. But what I had not expected to happen, was the moment I caught her eye. I looked away immediately, not out of shame, but out of the understanding that I could not bear the weight of her pain. It would have been far easier if her eyes had been dead, the windows to a soul lost to the oblivion. But they weren’t. They were the windows to summer basketball sessions between her late husband and her kids, the early mornings when snow would lightly fall and she would watch him sleep. They were the windows to a thousand more “I love you’s” which would fall on deaf ears and the echoes of petty fights that would haunt her recollection for years to come. And at the funeral of a childhood friend, I remember looking at his body, thinking about how many times that might have been me, how even in death, he didn’t seem so happy, but maybe that’s because his body was pumped full of gallons worth of chemicals and the makeup could not hide the way his neck curved ever so violently, the ghost of a rope ever so snug around the collar of his dress jacket.

  

If no matter and no energy can be lost or created, what happens at death? Quite obviously, there is still mass. You have a body almost always, a quiet shell of a person lying still. But a person while living maintains the energy of thought, of breath, of circulation. And once ceased, that energy cannot be destroyed. The body heat rises into the atmosphere, reuniting with the clouds, the rain and the air. The breath that once ran through them now runs though the atmosphere. The memories which gave fuel to their every move, their every sense of self, they belong now to the people who need them most, to those with whom they were shared before. And I think that is a lovely thing. We are both part of the universe and made up of it. We cannot be created from nothing and we cannot disappear to nothing. The life of each and every one of us was determined by the star explosion, the energy and life of others, the ability to continue on. And that’s why it’s entirely okay if you could not define yourself as just yourself before. Because in all honesty, you really can’t be you without others. But it’s okay. Because the others couldn’t be themselves without you either.