"Are we rich, Ta?" I remember asking my father as a little girl. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, a great big smile crossing his lips. "Sure," he said. My eyes grew wide.
" in nachas."
My face fell.
If he would tell me that now, my eyes would light up like a million neon Vegas lights. But it wasn't now; it was then. And back then, "nachas" had the net value equivalent to a mushy banana.
I grew up with a different kind of privilege. One most children aren't lucky enough to have. Born to parents, most children aren't lucky enough to be born to. There wasn't a question they couldn't answer. Not a thing they wouldn't do for us. They were the heroes of my community. They changed people's lives. Did I notice it then? Barely. Sure, I opened the door to dozens of desperate faces, hungry souls, and when we escorted them out, they left different people.
But did I realize who'd changed them? Never.
I always wondered, though. Wondered about these people. Why they came. What did we have that they didn't? What possessed these doctors, these lawyers, and business executives to come sit in a tent on our porch in the dead of October?
They'd gather around our table with talk of "meaning" on their lips. And go on about the lengths they'd gone to find it. I'd shiver in my skin and wonder what could possibly be so thrilling about a journey that landed them on our claustrophobic deck in below freezing weather. But they'd continue to speak, as if wind or snow couldn't stop them. They spoke with an excitement I couldn't understand. An enthusiasm that didn't belong. And electricity that couldn't be silenced.
"What's so special about meaning?" I'd muse aloud; the amateur cynic.
"Meaning," they told me, was a special place that had taken them years to find.
"'Where is it?" I challenged. "Show me."
But they couldn't. So they didn't. All they did was point to the left side of their chests and say, "'Meaning' is not a tangible place. Not a place you can fly to or point out on a map. Only a place you could find within yourself."
A mistake, perhaps, since I could already begin to see sparks of, oh I don't know, envy combined with horror, crawling in their eyes. They were stunned. Astonished by my wild disregard. Here they were, killing themselves, turning over their very lives just to obtain something I already had and was throwing away. Why, they couldn't at all understand, did I not appreciate the things they fought so hard to find?
Several few weeks ago I found myself in the Old City of Jerusalem, dumbstruck by the incredible air of holiness, when a bunch of local children ran past me. "Can you imagine growing up here?" I marveled, my voice laced with a sentiment fairly akin to jealously. "I bet these kids don't even realize how lucky they are "
As soon as those words left my lips, I regretted them.
I am them. The kid, who grew up in the Old City, skinned my knees on cobblestones and never noticed the magnitude of it. The girl who was born on a mountain, oblivious to the climb one must endure to get there.
Fast-forward ten years, a hop skip and plane ride from Buffalo and I finally understand what they saw when they looked at me. It finally clicked when I was offered a glimpse through the eyes I watched for so many years. The eyes that got wider and wider and with time more astonished and bewildered. The questions that filled those eyes, without them having to utter a single word. How can you not appreciate blatant holiness!? How can you not see G-d when He's staring you in the face!?
This time I saw it, if only for a moment. I saw what I once considered trite and feigned. But this time it was different. Because this time I believed it.
I realize now, it wasn't that I resented "truth" or "meaning" or whatever it was that made these people so crazy; it was that I never got the opportunity to know it. To appreciate it by my own will. It wasn't that I mocked their journey; it was that I envied it. All I ever really wanted was the chance to make my way of life something I chose rather than going along for the ride of something that had chosen me.
The truth is, 'truth' doesn't just want to be recognized in a crowd nor does it wish to crowd surf through throngs of screaming fans; it wants to be found. Sought out and pursued. Certainly, it could be raining all around you, in your bedroom, in your coffee, in your hair, but if you don't reach out, pick it up and internalize it, it means little, if anything at all.
You have to search for it. Under your bed, in your heart and in your soul. You have to want to find it. No matter the cost. You have to earn it. And then earn it again. And again.