I sound like I’m talking to and about Jews here, because I’m Jewish. But I hope anyone who reads this post will construe it as applying equally to themselves — yourselves — and to your histories, to the fullest extent possible. Certainly these ideas apply broadly to the US-American middle class experience.
I’m a high school senior, technically. Due to a critical combination of good grades, anger, and my school running out of classes for me, I get to spend this year taking all my courses at an artsy local college.
The arrangement is really perfect for this year. Next year, however, is the subject of a lot of discussion, anxiety, and crying, as I’ve kind of blogged before.
Here is the problem. From early childhood, I’ve been on track to get excellent financial aid at the ritzy private school of my choosing. I’ve been groomed for a very particular script: ace high school, move to the other side of the country away from everything I know and love (love meaning hate, presumably), and earn a badge from an institution of good repute, complete with all the elitist, capitalist, racist, bullshit baggage that kind of thing carries.
So. I’ve got my GPA and my SAT scores, and my applications should be soaring out to the Ivy Leaguers within the next few weeks.
But. But, but, but.
I’m good at writing papers. I’m good at getting good grades. But I would be a liar if I said that was what I wanted to do with my life for the next four years.
I would be a liar if I said I wanted to go off by myself to get plunked in with a bunch of strangers, try to reinvent myself when I already know who I am. I’ve already made the best friends anyone could hope to. And I’m extremely skeptical of the value of a $100,000 “education” when I already know I learn exponentially more everyday reading and talking to people than I ever have in a classroom.
Add to that the facts that I don’t know what kind of major could mesh with my interests, I don’t feel pulled toward any particular school, and frankly I want to stay in Santa Fe with my girlfriend, and there you have it.
On to the real point of this post.
At my last-ever meeting with my special ed case manager, we had a really interesting conversation about all of this. My case manager (an alum of the college I’m at this year, weirdly enough) was talking about how my high school does a shit job of offering college counseling to many of its students. Paraphrasing:
“A lot of the old New Mexican families get really frustrated with [the principal] telling their kid they need to go to the other side of the country. They have their whole family here, their whole network, and it’s just not the right path for them — they want to go to in-state schools and stay connected with their support system, and it’s unfair that other college paths get privileged over that. But, I know you’re not from that.”
My mother: “Well, we are from that — we were. In Europe.”
In Europe. Translation: before the Nazis destroyed those communities.
So what then? That’s it? We just give up on community now?
From now on we will send each of our children as far away as possible, to set up a different camp in some distant land. Our children will want nothing to do with us.
Why? Why on earth would we do this? In the name assimilation? In the name of surrender? In name of spreading out so they can’t get us this time?
Fuck. That. Shit.
Community didn’t end in with the war in 1945. Love did not end. Family did not end. Real victory does not come from defeating the enemy; real victory will happen only when we have supplanted their destruction with creation.
The existence of Israel is not a reason to accept Diaspora and disconnect for everyone else. The fact that our communities have been decimated is not — is never — a reason not to rebuild them. If there is anything to be learned from Jewish history, it is the value, the beauty, the necessity of overcoming oppression. Overcoming devastation. Again and again and again.
I believe we need community like we need water. We need real community. We don’t need relatives we hate who we see once a year because we have to. We don’t need our friends and comrades to berate us, to inflict social standards upon us, to encourage us to bow to cultural expectations and in doing so ignore our own abilities and talents and needs.
We don’t need to leave our friends and families and become new people. We don’t need to get elitist educations that will shuttle us into money-making, world-ruining jobs.
We need love. We need friends, we need siblings, we need comrades. We need the relentless daily experience of our fellows giving and working for us, of giving and working for them. We need sharing. We need understanding.
We need to gather everyone we know in our bedrooms, our attics, our backyards and basements to spend time, days and weeks and precious hours, seeing one another. Sharing ourselves.
My friends and I do this by playing songs for each other. We draw pictures and paint paintings together. We cry and scream and laugh and hug and drink and smoke and kiss and make stuff. We make everything we can. We say everything we can. We sing even when we can’t. This thing, this self-revealing, this love-in-motion, is the hardest, bravest thing in the world. And it is the reason I am alive and happy and writing this today. This is the reason I am snowed in at my best friend’s house with some of my absolute favorite people around me. They are playing Guitar Hero as I write and eat the salad my girlfriend made us, which I soaked with dressing made after my mother’s recipe. A recipe for balsamic vinaigrette that came, presumably, with my grandmothers from the Old Country.
The work of community building is the most important work in the world. It is life-saving, love-making work. And this is why I don’t give a shit about where I go to college, as long as I can do it with my comrades beside me.
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