After hitting puberty, a cloud of cynicism began to amass over me. It was an odd shaped cloud, at first taking on the form of the letters, “HA HA,” then a finger pointing omnisciently in my direction. It followed me to high school, mocking my haphazard community service hours, to college, dressed like a mangled version of our school mascot, and to NY, where it shape shifts so quickly and so often that I can’t tell if it is ridiculing my outfit, my hipster neighbor, my job or the general mass of people moving in Frogger-esque formation across the city streets. Then one day, I woke up, looked in the mirror and the cloud of muck and madness had transfixed itself to my forehead, spelling out the words: JADED.
At first, I was a bit concerned to have my face marred by such large, shady letters. I tried concealing it with my roommate’s foundation to no avail. I even tried one of those DIY cucumber and cream cheese face-masks but got hungry 10 minutes into it and made myself a sandwich instead (just kidding…kind of). With no quick-fix in sight, I decided to wear a grey outfit to work that day and make the best of it.
On the way to the subway, though, the greetings of my fellow NYers were far from demeaning. Instead, I felt plopped into a 1990’s comedy, like walking down the hall with everyone smiling and doing that odd gunshot wave in acknowledgment of my cool factor. Ferris Bueller and his red whatever seemed like Steve Erkel in my shadow. At work, well, at work let’s just say that I fit right in, particularly with our office location right by Wall Street.
So with the support of my friends, colleagues, confidantes, cab drivers and absolute strangers, I grew accustomed to my new look, so comfortable in fact that I began to notice copy cats all over the place. The letters were plastered on hand bags, computer screens, shoulders, ankles, street signs — you name it. They had different fonts and sizes of course, but the essence remained the same. I also noticed this weird thing that would happen every time I turned on the news or browsed the NY Times — this white noise began to emanate from the letters, clouding my vision and the ability to hear anything clearly. It was particularly obstructive with the words “Iraq,” “health care” or “climate change.” Bothersome at first, yes, but pretty comfortable over time.
Today, though, at my cousin’s bat mitzvah, I felt a strange sensation on my forehead. As I looked upon her — gleefully embracing her coming of age, thoughtfully discussing the relevance of her personal rite of passage beyond herself, outlining what she plans to do in the community over the next couple years and most importantly, sincerely looking to the future with excitement and openness to the infinite realm of possibilities ahead — the letters began to drop slowly into my lap. I opened a book made for the event, and on the last page, read the following words by Abraham Joshua Heschel:
Let young people…be sure that every deed counts,
that every word has power,
and that we all can do our share to redeem the world
in spite of all its absurdities and frustrations and disappointments
…Let them remember to build a life
as if it were a work of art.
Although my stamp of cynicism will likely reappear in one place or another, more relentless than bed bugs, I can only hope that raw inspiration continues to put up a good fight.
Note that I am publishing this immediately after writing, because I know if I wait until later, even until morning, my anti-cheesiness instinct will kick in and prevent me from doing so. It seems that it already has begun to kick in…