Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Days of Awe

During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we add a number of lines to the Shemoneh Esreh, asking for God to inscribe us in the Book of Life. To me these prayers have always spoken of the balance between our awareness of a divine power and our consciousness that we shape our lives and the world with our communications and actions. Odd, since these additions emphasize God’s actions, especially the ability to show mercy to human beings. Our recitation of these lines indicate that we believe our actions do have meaning and effect, at least when it comes to supplication. That we plead on behalf of the collective is evidence of our understanding that we are inter-connected and that our fates are bound together. Perhaps that is why we imagine a Book filled with names rather than more individualized acknowledgements of our fate.

During the year following the events of September 11th, 2001 I felt that the world had been permanently suspended in a period where our actions determine our future. I continuously felt that the fate of humanity was being judged and that our thoughts and behaviors were contributing to that determination. I kept myself aware of this sensibility liturgically by continuing to recite the additions to the Shemoneh Esreh throughout the year.

Now each time the season comes around I try to repeat this practice at least once in preparation for the High Holy Days. I use it as a framework for reflecting on the state of the world and of humanity. I wonder what challenges our future will bring and what mercy we can hope for, from the Divine Source and from each other. This year, 2010 and 5771, the anniversary of 9.11 falls on Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I hope that it will remind all of us of what we learned, at least for a while, in the immediate aftermath of that day. May our collective new year be filled with blessing.

Monday, May 31, 2010

May Flowers

I’m a city girl and so my knowledge of flora is limited by growing up amidst concrete. I did live (and still do) in a wonderful neighborhood bordered on both sides by huge parks, so the greening and flowering of trees and plants are familiar harbingers of warm weather for me. Still, I often forget how powerful the attraction of blooming things is. I remember once having no luck separating my cat from a vase of sunset orange tiger lilies; a usually fastidious creature, he kept at them until his face was covered in pollen that made him look like a child who had smeared jam across his face. I marveled at the call of nature as I lifted him away time and again.
A voracious learner, I am always disappointed in myself for not knowing more about the natural world, or not feeling confident enough in identifying plants, animals, etc. The truth is that I know many flowers from their use in perfumery, a long-time love. Poppy, carnation (my first floral fragrance favorite and still the most sentimental), rose, jasmine, magnolia, mimosa, iris, lily, violet, tuberose, gardenia, geranium, orange flower… all are well-known to me in distilled or created form. Separating the scent from the other sensory indicators of flowers is an odd thing to contemplate at the brink of summer, which is to me so much about color and light. But the perfumer’s art gives us the illusion that flowers, or at least their silage, are with us at all times, not just in season, and that is a luxury that keeps some of spring’s hope at the ready.
When I was in college I was the flower child or flower girl for the Kosher Kitchen – the titles were my own private joke, but my task for four years was to visit the florist on Friday afternoon and pick the flowers for the Sabbath dinner tables. I also brought them to the dining hall and arranged them in vases. This private perk allowed me to welcome in the Sabbath and the weekend with a few moments of communing with flowers, albeit separate from their natural habitat.
A few weeks ago I toured the city with friends and we walked the High Line, admiring the wildflower landscape and the backdrop views of the Hudson. Later, as we waited for their express bus home on a quiet stretch of midtown, one friend pointed out that the hyacinths arranged primly in a large planter were wafting scent our way. We moved close to bury our noses in the crisp, cool purple floral fragrance that broke the careful line-up. Spring had come. The other day at the farmer’s market with another friend we picked up a huge bouquet of lilacs for her Sabbath table. They were almost over-run in their lushness and their perfume overpowered an Indian dinner.
So I wonder what it is about flowers that most attracts you – scent, color, shape, their audacious or delicate existence, their ephemeral quality? What most signals spring, in all of its call to life and lushness? Which flowers most represent spring and the advent of summer? What do they tell you when they appear, out of season, in the midst of your daily activities?
©2010 Leah Strigler

Monday, May 10, 2010

The First Year

I ran into a friend on the street Sunday afternoon. I had just been thinking about her, that I should send her a message for Mother’s Day, wishing her well and noting how hard it is the first year after a parent dies to experience such holidays. Her mother died only a short while ago. She had been walking with uncharacteristic fierceness, hiding behind large sunglasses (think Jackie O) and frowning. Our conversation changed her demeanor, as she lit up with wonder saying that she had just been thinking about her bad mood and realizing why she was feeling so blue. I also reminded her of how well she had cared for her mother. Smiles and good wishes followed; the sun came out and the wind temporarily died down. I kid you not, and the weather’s good timing had us riffing even more magical phenomena: rainbows and greenery and sparkles.
In Jewish tradition much emphasis is placed on the desire to do mitzvot or good deeds. In this instance the synchronicity was all but instantaneous, enough to make one believe in the Law of Attraction. I thought of the idea and the means of immediately enacting it appeared. Would that all opportunities for good deeds come rushing to meet us on our way.
Jewish tradition is wise to have mourners mark the first year after a passing, since it takes a cycle of special days – holidays of the Jewish and secular sort, seasons, birthdays, anniversaries and celebrations – to recast one’s life without the beloved but with memories of them. When my father passed away another friend, who had lost her mother even earlier, said to me that what I would miss most (as she did) was the conversations that I would not have with him. I think the same principle is in play here: the days we especially mark make us more acutely aware of the absences in our lives. We may carry people in our hearts, but they are no longer in our present and this is especially poignant at significant moments. At a baby ceremony earlier in the day I was reminded of this as well as, in keeping with Ashkenazik Jewish custom, the new arrival was named for departed family members who were remembered lovingly and with tears. There was tremendous joy too for this long-anticipated child and the future imagined for him.
For me Mother’s Day is a double whammy, since my father passed away on this Sunday twelve years ago. While the date is not his yahrzeit, the Jewish day on which I recite once again the mourner’s kaddish in commemoration of the anniversary of his passing, it is impossible to forget the connection. It was a sunnier Sunday and I was lucky enough to have a few friends who had come to the hospital to visit stay with me and my mother as we shifted into our new reality. How odd that a day devoted to one parent now forever reminds me of the sadness of losing my other parent and the power of community. Perhaps it is this experience more than the Jewish mourning tradition that makes me so sensitive to what my friend was experiencing.
There are many ways to close a posting like this, some sappier than others, but I think it is truer to its spirit to leave it, much the way absences of loved ones leave spaces to fill with spirit.
©2010 Leah Strigler

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bread Alone

With Passover only a few weeks away, I find myself craving bread; also pizza, but pasta, not as much and desserts, not really. It is unusual for me to be so focused on hametz; the excesses of Purim usually quell any cravings (especially for sweet things) and make me feel prepared for the freedom/denial of Passover, when eight days stretch far longer in the mind. Depriving oneself seems to do that, slow down time, quite effectively.
My best strategy for Passover is quite simple. I eat as little matzah as possible; usually a maximum of one piece once we have cleared the seders. I continue to eat foods that are kosher at all times: fruit, vegetables, potatoes, cheese, meat, eggs and nuts. I avoid as best as possible all of the fake “bready” foods, desserts included. By the end of the holiday I usually feel better than ever and each year I wonder if I could continue to live bread-free, all of the time forever more. How much variety do I need in my food anyway? And what exactly is essential about bread?
Man does not live by bread alone. The famous quotation seems absurd in that it flattens into the one simple term a stunning array of food items, crossing cultures, eras, culinary imaginations, different grains and an endless variety of additional ingredients. What culture or nation does not have at least one bread that is considered an identifying staple?
But bread of course is a metaphor for the basic physical needs of our survival and that is the gist of the Biblical citation. In Deuteronomy chapter eight, verses two and three, it says (I am using the Jewish Publication Society’s translation):
Remember the long way that the Lord your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to
Learn what was in your hearts; whether you would keep His commandments
or not. He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees.
The flatness of the matzah reminds us of the speed with which the Israelites fled Egypt. The learning that life is about more than bread anyway reminds us of the forty years it took those same Israelites to die out in the dessert, so that their children could be prepared to live in allegiance to their Lord, albeit freely in their own country. In each miraculous set of events the power of the divine is paramount. We humans are asked to be incredible jugglers, appreciative of the delights of our physical world while yet attuned to the gifts of God as well as to our own limits. It is exhausting to think about. It should be making me hungry. What constitutes freedom and what slavery? What serves as basic sustenance for you, your bread? And what reminds you that life is a gift symbolized by bread, the work, nourishment and creativity that we knead into it, and yet rises above it, into the ether like the scent of yeast looking to meet the airiness of enlightenment. When we are blessed, it rains back down on us in transmuted gifts. ©2010 Leah Strigler

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Poetic Echoes

The Echo Of
Night in an ancient city; I match your footsteps.
Walking alone where many have walked over much time,
where I have walked many times, where you…
Walking together with you.
And the aged stones of the old buildings hold
the wisdom of eternal time. They glow softly with
soaked moonlight and hold the night
for an extended moment
in which our footsteps leave a single echo.
What does this city know of us together?
More than we each know of ourselves,
A single moment glowing softly
that we let fall into eternity, hidden
among stones.

A few weeks ago I shared with two rather new friends some poems that I had written in high school and college. They received a quite enthusiastic reception and one friend has been urging me to post my poetry more regularly. A lovely and most appreciated suggestion, especially since I fell out of the habit of weekly posts (a new year’s resolution) all too quickly. But all written pieces represent moments in time and revisiting old pieces that one has written is even more intense than rereading works that had been significant at earlier stages of life, whether difficult or beloved. In both case one re-acquaints with an older version of the self, but one’s own words are even more potent reminders and evidence of past life. Poetry, with its immediacy and bareness of form, can be particularly wise and difficult; this particular genre has been weighing heavily on me since I returned to it.
Two incidents account for this. The first is that an old friend came to visit and the visit was difficult. Actually, it all but ruined the friendship, although on account of my excessive acceptance and generosity (please read this as self-blame) I held my tongue and did my best to host. The danger in not speaking up became clear when as a thank you he sent me some poems written about his NYC visit, many based on observations that I had made. What are the limits of poetic license? One poem, dedicated to me, re-imagined my apartment as a servant’s room, haunted by a former occupant mysteriously murdered, the case unsolved. It made my blood run cold and I realized that this friendship was dead and buried.
In the mail this week I received my college alumni magazine, with the note that an old friend had died by her own hand. She and I had fallen out of touch a while back but I would occasionally run into her. I remember our last real get-together taking place the week that Yasser Arafat passed away; we sat in a hummus joint downtown and I translated the Israeli news blaring on the television. The media were following the story but an official announcement was yet to be made. She and I were good friends in the early nineties when we both lived in DC. Both transplanted New Yorkers, we delighted in taking long walks together (as few others did there) and sharing literary and intellectual conversation. Her death was announced in the papers and the news is three months old but somehow I missed it and feel badly, both about losing touch and for not knowing. I have been rereading her work this week as that is the only thing I can do to process and remember her. It is beautiful as ever but so much sadder; it feels rewritten in light of the future that had not yet come to pass.
Alas. I should bring up something positive. Poetry was an early love of mine and one of my favorite activities in high school was the literary club, which I co-directed my senior year, also editing the annual journal. At the time I was concerned not so much with the quality of my work as with the joy of the activity; I loved reading and writing and discussing poems. It has been such a treat to go back and re-read these pieces, recognizing myself, my history and my ability with delight. These are not embarrassing snapshots (why did I ever think that I looked better with bangs?) but rather lovely captures of key moments and knowings that have given me renewed strength and dedication to pursuing more such joyful and thoughtful creative activity, not to mention writing and communicating with greater sensitivity and fortitude. I am somewhat in awe of the voice of my younger self and wonder how she could have grown into one so much less sure. Time is a funny process, as is its companion aging. May they and all other processes and forces bless us with many opportunities to recognize meaning and beauty, both fleeting and eternal.
©2010 Leah Strigler

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Regrets Only

My new favorite guilty pleasure TV series is a Canadian import from the CBC called Being Erica. Its second season is currently running on Soapnet in the US; episodes of season two are available on Hulu after broadcast, as are all the installments of season one. Erica is a thirty-two year old single Jewish Torontonian stalled in her career and life. The show begins with Erica, after a particularly bad day, meeting a mysterious therapist named Dr. Tom and agreeing to undergo therapy with him. Dr. Tom asks her to list all of her regrets and then proceeds to not just discuss them with her, but facilitate her travelling back in time to relive and alter the experiences and decisions that she regrets. Things are of course never as simple or clear as in retrospect; Erica’s revisits and subsequent reflections help her grow and gain understanding of both herself and the people in her life. Over time, we watch her change as she learns to listen better to both her inner compass and to those around her.
This series piqued my interest for a number of reasons as soon as I happened upon a description (I have sadly forgotten where I originally read about it); its humor and humanity have won me over as a true fan and I hope that a third season is approved for filming. Being Erica combines a number of elements that I love: urban life, Judaism, personal journeys, psychological reflection and science fiction. It is fun to glimpse life in Toronto, a central city in a country very close to but not quite like mine, which also contains young urbanites figuring out their lives, public transportation, cafes, pedestrians and street culture. Judaism is a key aspect of Erica’s identity – her father is a second career rabbi – but it never dominates the storyline. The way in which Jewish practice is included or remarked upon is refreshing in its normalcy and perspective. Except for Erica’s father it is a passive element in the lives of Erica and her family members. In many ways the series is an updated bildungsroman, but a coming of age in one’s thirties that has become typical of a certain portion of the population only in recent decades. I recognize it well from the vantage point of my own generation. Important too is the fact that Erica is female, which makes all of the elements that she is juggling that much more complicated. The combination of psychology and time travel may seem outlandish at first, but I appreciate the genius of concretizing the experience of reviewing one’s past which is such a hallmark of our psychologically savvy culture. So too is the realm of fantasy and the desire to be able to go back in time and correct mistakes. A number of more traditional time travel fantasies emphasize the danger of encountering one’s past or future selves for fear of altering (read ruining) one’s “real” life. But for Erica the game is just the opposite: she literally embodies her former self with her present thoughts and predilections, often with humorous results, in order to improve her present. One can imagine her ruing ever saying “If only I knew then what I know now…” as she has actually experienced such a paradox. Catch yourself the next time you say the same out loud in your own mind.
Inspired by the show, I started my own list of regrets. While it is a work in progress, bound to be both refined and extended, I have noticed a few patterns, most significantly how many of items relate to things that I did not do, missed opportunities. My list rang in my ears like a recitation of negative commandments – the Thou Shalt Nots that are all too familiar from the Ten Commandments, although I assure you that there are many more of them in traditional Jewish practice. This made me wonder about and question my own courage and convictions – both are qualities that Erica strengthens over the course of the series – and what I can do to live more conscious of the importance of certain moments and their significance, including imagining how I might feel about them as I look back at them from the future.
It is my sense that the show’s quality is in large part attributable to its being Canadian rather than American but I do not feel that I know enough to be able to describe exactly why. So I hooked a Canadian friend who grew up in Toronto but has lived in the United States for virtually all of her adult life. I asked her about my thesis and look forward to our discussion of it. As a comparison, one might consider the TV series born in Latin America and produced here as Ugly Betty. I first learned about this show and its cultural migration when Israeli cousins introduced me to their national version Esti Hamechoeret = Esti the Ugly. The New York Times ran an article describing the phenomenon (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/07/weekinreview/07rohter.html?_r=1&scp=4&sq=ugly%20betty&st=cse) when the American version debuted. Considering how often American models of entertainment dominate global popular culture, it is fun to consider one that came from elsewhere and has proven so attractive in multiple cultures. Regrettably, Ugly Betty has been cancelled and this season will be its last. Betty is another female protagonist who is strong and plucky, imperfect and endearing. Thanks to the internet the demise of such a show is not the same sort of death sentence as it was even a short while ago. May Betty, Erica and their entire cohorts live on and share many triumphs and lessons, past, present and future.
©2010 Leah Strigler

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's in a Name

Leah (Weary One)

If all the world
were made of fire
sliding, shifting
blindingly hot
I would take shelter
at the edges which
chose to let some
slip through

If all the world
were made of marble
cool, smooth
I would slip into a crevice
that curved gently
and pillow my head
on my arms

I wrote this poem somewhere in my teen years, earlier rather than later, maybe ninth grade? It was a response to the Modern Hebrew meaning of my name; although Leah is Biblical its ancient definition is unknown. Leah is not very popular either as a traditional Hebrew name (compare the other Matriarchs – Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel) or as a Biblical character. She pales in comparison to her sister Rachel, the wife that Jacob truly wanted and loved and the tragic heroine who dies in childbirth. Rachel’s relationship with Leah is contentious: Leah envies (must envy?) Rachel’s ability to hold their husband’s love and Rachel envies Leah’s fertility, a gift from God that the Bible states (Genesis chapter 29, verse 31) He gave her because she was unloved by her husband. The rabbinic commentators soften this tension between the sisters by relating a number of stories: Rachel offers Leah the secret word that will help her trick Jacob into thinking she is Rachel when at their marriage bed, while Leah prays for a daughter (after six sons) so that Rachel will bear two of Jacob’s twelve promised sons and thereby be at least equal to the handmaiden wives, already mothers to two sons apiece. Rachel is reported a clear beauty; Leah’s eyes are “soft” or “weak: (“rakot” in Hebrew, described in Genesis chapter 29, verse 17). One commentator, Rashi, relates that Leah’s eyes were so because she cried bitterly at her fate to marry Esau, as people would say that the two daughters of Laban were to be matched to his sister’s two sons, elder to elder and younger to younger. By this explanation one might infer that her life as she lived it, married to Jacob who did not love her, could only have been preferable. Leah’s history hardly felt happy and as a child I was not strengthened by the association with such sorrow. Also, I am named after my father’s sister, the one just above him in family order and one of three Strigler sisters who perished in Poland during the Holocaust. She had straight silky blonde hair as a child, so different from mine, and aquiline features with high cheekbones. This personal family history was also heavy and a reminder of the aunt and other family members I was never able to meet, but I was happier to have my name represent that heritage because it was personal, a legacy that I found important. By chance my Sephardic grandmother, who I knew well as a child, was also named Leah in Hebrew and so we were able to say that my name was also in honor of her and followed Sephardic tradition as well.
I prefer strongly to have my name pronounced the Hebrew way. It is often a bad sign if I do not bother to correct someone on this point. Star Wars came out when I was nine and did me a great service as I could reference the movie in explaining how to pronounce my name. I often get called “Princess” as a result but that I can tolerate happily although I hardly think of myself as princess-like, in any way. But having my name evoke some levity is lovely, a relief from the wearying consideration of life and legacies.
©2010 Leah Strigler

Resolutions and Resolve

Two weeks or so into the New Year many may be ruefully reconsidering their new year’s resolutions, even if only in the privacy of their own thoughts. A number may have already “failed” to keep resolutions and/or decided that they are too ambitious to achieve. These first days can be heavy with determination, often too much so. The fifteenth was a potent day astrologically: a New Moon and solar eclipse as well as the day that Mercury turned direct after its last bout of retrograde motion. A number of astrologers noted that it felt like the true beginning of the year, so one may use that as an excuse for getting a late start on the goals for 2010 and mark one’s progress from then.
I have a general strategy to suggest for dealing with the stress of falling off the wagon in regards to resolutions. It is one that I try to employ myself when I am feeling weak in resolve – or at least a rationale that I use in retrospect, facing my own shortcomings. Consider your resolutions, especially the ones that have you chafing, and choose to break them - some or all - deliberately. If you can I encourage you to enjoy doing so, relishing in the bad behavior or habits. It is OK. Show yourself that the worst can happen, you can wallow in the state of being only human. You can still return to your new practice, get back on the horse. You may find that you have already begun to lose the taste for that which you decided was not good for you. Or, perhaps, you might realize that your resolution is one that you do not really desire or one that you need to refine. By breaking your new rule at the outset you can test your resolve and strengthen it. By forcing “the worst that can happen” you can start again with a clearer sense of whether your goal is suitable for this moment in time, how ready you are to undertake your planned changes and what it will take for you to move forward. Maimonides is famous for noting that true repentance occurs when one finds oneself in the same situation and does not repeat the same behavior. His point is that one has to face the same temptations and not repeat the same mistakes. With him in one’s ear it might be easier to forego the ice cream, keep oneself from shouting or haul out of bed for morning exercise. This strategy of mine offers a variation on that scenario, with a more forgiving twist. We humans tend to rely on our foibles and feebleness in order to excuse ourselves when we fall down on our intentions or high idealistic standards. Much personal growth literature would counter such weakness or fallibility with the kind of advice that I am offering, albeit with the truism that one can reform at any time. All too true, but I would add that the importance of experience as education and the pull of one’s intuition suggest that being drawn to old behaviors may also be purposeful; you may have something else to recognize or realize from succumbing. So do so, enjoy it, but pay attention to what you learn about yourself up until that moment and the changes that are already underway.
I went to Barnes and Noble over the weekend and was surprised that the sale table of calendars contained none of the business-looking datebooks or planners that Barnes and Noble publishes. What were left were wall calendars and page-a-day ones. Were all of the ones that I was looking for sold out? I find that unlikely and so this absence is a mystery to me. Wondering about it led me to think about all of the different kinds of available calendars and how they help us shape the plans of our daily lives. What would one look like if it was focused on helping us measure our goals and desires, how much we see ourselves improving and what steps we feel we need to take next? Lately I have also found myself having myriad discussions about how to self-motivate, especially important for those of us whose work lives are not typical, an increasingly growing group. More and more I describe the importance of making fun, creating a game and figuring out what sorts of counting and accounting motivate you. Improving and evolving need not be a chore and it is a process I think well worth documenting, even if just to yourself.
©2010 Leah Strigler

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Certain Something

I remember one day in the early 80s when I waited on the corner of 79th street and Madison Avenue for the M17 (now the M79) cross-town bus to travel home from school. It was relatively cold – everyone was wearing coats – and the bus was taking a long time to arrive, so the prospective riders grew increasingly annoyed. One woman finally lost patience and hailed a cab. The one that stopped was dispensing a passenger and the man took his time. The waiting woman became more and more aggravated at his slowness, puffing up and readying to yell or strike when he emerged; imagine the Big Bad Wolf getting ready to blow. I was attentive to the moment, sensitive soul that I am, because I was anticipating her outburst with mild dread. His business done, the man finally emerged from the cab – and when his face turned out he was immediately recognizable as Warren Beatty. I have never seen a woman’s face change so fast; she near melted as he straightened up, glanced down at her briefly but did not smile or speak and then started walking away. I do not remember exactly what she did next – I think that she took awhile herself as she was climbing in while trying to follow the movie star with her eyes. I too was watching him, as who could not. Even for native New Yorkers glimpses of stars are a treat and I was a young teen. Also, he was not just famous and good-looking but incredibly suave in his gait, a fair swagger. I do not know if he had any idea of how angry the woman had been; I believe that he knew the effect he had on onlookers, but I am likely projecting his reputation onto this memory. I well remember how tall he appeared and how square the shoulders of his coat seemed, matching his face and jawline.
This sighting remains one of my favorites and one of the funniest I have experienced. It came back to me as I saw a headline about the new Warren Beatty biography and the report that he had slept with almost 13,000 women. At the time that I saw him I had some sense of his reputation but it was pretty tame compared to what I later understood. I know that at the time he was quite at the height of his fame and handsomeness. It became clearer on that day just what the fuss was about in regards to his particular self. He was also a striking example of how attraction is not just about one’s physical attributes, however beautiful, but also about one’s aura and air. He had a certain something that was broadcasting loudly, even in the absent-minded moment on a street corner.
Part of the fun of this memory is how many ways I can spin it. I wonder what any male onlookers thought of the scene. I wonder too how Beatty would have behaved differently if he had decided to hold that woman’s attention and even return it. I muse over how celebrities pique our curiosity and devotion and that even with their domination of screens of all sizes there is something different about them when seen in person; it is sometimes more magical and certainly notable.
©2010 Leah Strigler

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Power of Ten

The turning of the decade had me thinking about the classic and cliché application/interview question: Where do you see yourself in ten years from now? Where indeed? Today I am less certain of the answer to that question then I have ever been in my life. I should be petrified perhaps but instead it feels OK; I believe that is because everything in the world seems like it is shifting so. I am no doomsayer but I do have a more than passing interest in the New Age; I am finding 2012 a useful benchmark to contemplate, more manageable since it is only two years out and it is long familiar - I remember the stories and prophecies about the date from my early days of reading science fiction.
In a related vein then, I wonder as well where our universe will be in ten years, or at least our planet – I should downscale my goals and wonderings, since I do have the tendency to be too ambitious and macro in my thinking. The world, the scale of things, and the power of ten all make me think of the classic short film by Charles and Ray Eames, which was also imprinted on me in childhood:


I am not sure why ten is such a powerful number, even though I understand how useful it has proven to us humans in creating counting systems for so many ideas in our world: years, ages, money and more. These things are the building blocks of our lives. In the same way that our bi-furcated bodies echo the dualities we so often notice, groupings of ten underscore much of what we are concerned with on a daily basis. As I embark on this new decade I want to keep this mystery about ten an open question, a thinking game and something to wonder about on occasion, no matter what answers have been given in the past.
Getting back to the interview question, we humans do tend to put a lot of faith in our ability to imagine the future and make it come true as we desire. But our lives, especially whole decades of them, contain twists and turns that make what we imagined seem suddenly or in retrospect impossible, unappealing, or beside the point. Without getting into any debate about the Law of Attraction, I think that part of the appeal of a decade is that it is still so far in the future that it seems like science fiction, a world that we cannot yet fully imagine and so carte blanche for us to let our imagination rip. Thoughts do become things but we need not be attached to all of them or hold them forever. It is sad then that in so many contexts where the question is asked the range of answers is actually quite constricted, a narrow band of what would be considered acceptable or pleasing. In my career counseling sessions I do bring up the question occasionally; most often I emphasize the irony of it or remind people that the point ahead in time is in reality a moving target, subject to revisions and romantic flights of fancy. These are personal lessons for me; I have experienced the limitations of holding onto both the past and the visions of the time to come even as they shift. A resolution for this year is to be more aware of how all is fluid and all is now.
On New Years Day a friend commented on the bliss of being in the present moment and how so much of our troubles stem from fretting about the future. This may be all too true, but if we would like our world to be here in ten years from now, in whatever form we may desire and presumably with humans still inhabiting it, then there are some things that we should be worrying about. Perhaps the power of ten can help here – letting us enjoy the moment (picnic in the park anyone? Well, maybe in the Southern Hemisphere…) while offering a way to remain alert to all that is happening simultaneously in the larger world and on other planes. A question of perspective, and framing and how to experience time; these are all good things to think about at the outset of a new year when we use our counting system to give ourselves a fresh start. Here’s to a decade of growing awareness, widening perspectives and multiple answers.
©2010 Leah Strigler