This post is a continuation of “An Ode to May (Part 2 of 4)“. (This one is the long section – almost finished!)
My third weekend getaway in May took me to New York, where I immersed in the Jewish culture of the Upper West Side, attended a fusion-theater show, celebrated my little sister’s college graduation… and remembered who I was and, therefore, who I am.
The flight to the East Coast was fairly uneventful, save a surprise upgrade to first class where I munched on vegetarian delicacies and befriended a Yalie lawyer, because who else do you meet in first class?
The ride from La Guardia Airport to Manhattan was a bit more eventful when my bus (5976 on the M60 line) got into an accident on the ramp to the TriBoro Bridge!! Thankfully no one was hurt, but – as we were not allowed to disembark onto the bridge – a jam-packed bus filled with around 60 New Yorkers were forced to unexpectedly and involuntarily pass an hour of time in close proximity.
Dressed in surfer shorts, donning the crystal/hemp necklace recently gifted to me, my blonde wavy hair cascading down over a brightly-colored shirt, my look screamed “California”. But still, I forgot how disconnected from the New York mentality I had become because… I decided that everyone on the bus was going to have fun together and become friends!
After a bit of internal dialogue (“This is crazy, don’t do it” “Ayo, this is the perfect scenario… they’re captive!” “You’re gonna get beat up” “Don’t be silly, this worked that one time at the airport two years ago“, etc.), I took a deep breath and announced to the extended tandem bus riders: “Hi everyone! I know that we’re going to be stuck here for a while. I’m volunteering to lead a stretching and yoga class for anyone interested… or to teach salsa or swing dancing. All free. Come to the front of the bus if you’re interested!”
I waited. No one moved. Everyone exchanged looks with one another. No one made eye contact with me. Had I found my Kryptonite? Was this bus full of people immune to Ayo silliness? I thought for a moment “Well, if they won’t stretch with me, maybe they’ll laugh at me?” and proceeded to bust out my iPod and break it down for the next half hour.
As I silently danced, bhangra-ed and worked repeated pull-ups in my 3 square feet of the bus, the riders gave each other looks of incredulity, which led to smiles and chuckles, which at least partially dissolved the stressful tension that had been building up in the bus. It felt good to bring a handful of New Yorkers together… even if it was at my “expense”. And I felt like I was still being respectful of the riders’ personal space as I kept the music low and used headphones for the duration of the delay, so win-win.
Shabbat on the Upper West Side was nice, but being back in a Jewish “ghetto” where I am the majority was weird. Being in New York was even weirder. I am not a New Yorker, though I did spend an awesome morning walking through Central Park and singing at strangers. It was nice to reconnect with friends and, following Shabbat, I attended a friend’s unique performance at the Jewish Theological Seminary called “Beethoven Bratslav Beethoven”. The play artistically depicted the stories of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav against the backdrop of vocally-rendered Beethoven music. The performance was clever, enjoyable and highlighted the oft-overlooked reality of Beethoven and Nachman being contemporaries who lived a mere two days apart by carriage. Following the performance, I spent some quality time with Yair’s parents and then caught some shut-eye before making the trek to see my child prodigy sister Jessie graduate from college the next day.
As though graduating from Yale with straight As and early admission to Mt. Sinai Medical School wasn’t enough, the little sis somehow managed to expedite her coursework, jump through a fair number of administrative hoops and graduate Yale in three years. Goddamn underachiever. The whole family turned out to cheer her on, and I “A-bombed” the graduation with a host of home-made signs and other celebratory paraphernalia.
A highlight of the graduation was hearing Newark Mayor Cory Booker speak. His talk was funny, insightful and inspiring and he seems to have his priorities straight. Listen, Cory, I honestly don’t know how compatible we would be, but you’ve totally earned yourself a date. Drop me a line if you’re up for hanging out the next time I’m in Jersey. 🙂
On the topic of college graduation speeches, there are two videos that I strongly recommend. The first is an animated short called “This is Water” that addresses the day-to-day grind and the choices that we are presented with on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the video appears to have been temporarily pulled from the internet due to an intellectual property concern, but I recommend the piece for anyone who can find it!
The second video is a Ted Talk that is titled “Why 20 is Not The New 30“. Though I didn’t swallow the message whole (and wasn’t thrilled with the line about fertility peaking at 28!), I thought that Meg Jay had several worthwhile nuggets to share about behavioral patterns, seizing the moment and the distinction between exploration and procrastination.
I am very ready to engage with society, and to up my level of contribution to it. I have always maintained a good altruistic/exploration or work/life balance, but I will soon be ready to pause my mini-retirement. Between all my projects, I may still “do more” than most people who work traditional jobs, yet this season has been slow for me. Though the “slow” was intentional to allow myself a few months to breathe and enjoy Austin, I look forward to adding more meaningful structure and contribution to my life in the near term.
What else? Spending a few nights with my family and staying in my childhood bedroom allowed me to connect with my former self. And not just the self who rocked out to Britney Spears cassette tapes on a boom box while dancing in front of the mirror opposite my bed in a high school tank and booty shorts (though I definitely did that on this trip), but to connect with the pre-teen child who I had forgotten. I ducked into the attic and encountered five years of NCSY yearbooks and notes written to me by over a hundred youth participants. I laughed at seeing pre-growth spurt me and marveled at holding my first elected leadership position at age ten before being elected to president of our chapter board and subsequently regional board in the years thereafter.
My jaw dropped upon discovering a poster that I had made in 5th grade titled “Me, Myself and I”. The poster recorded facts about ourselves, our likes and dislikes. I was a mere 59 pounds and it’s hard for me to remember being that small. In a list of my five favorite things (not even school subjects), math ranked as my favorite activity. In the high school rush of algebra and calculus coursework, math got harder and I totally forgot about how much I loved math and problem solving as kid. Even my quirks were evident from an early age, as written on the bottom right corner of the poster was the following blurb: “My favorite animal is the wild boar because I find its mating habits interesting.” As a ten year old!! Sheesh.
Unprompted, my mom dug my old college transcripts out of the attic – A’s from the universities where I studied, newspaper clippings featuring my research projects and a letter from the dean congratulating me on Phi Beta Kappa. It was almost jarring. It’s strange to say this, but I’ve been expressing my creativity, circus skills, altruism and entrepreneurship so much that, in a way, I forgot that I was book smart. And, though I love being Ayo and the life and persona that it is wrapped up in, I forgot how damn impressive Amy was. And again, as strange as this may sound, I’m proud to come from that Amy legacy, to lay claim to her contributions, to remember her stories and to be her.
I left the East Coast happy, feeling grounded in who I am and – on the airplane ride home – the older gentleman sitting next to me noticed that I was quite cold and kindly gave me his suit jacket to use as a blanket to keep me warm. Thank you, my suit jacket friend. Thank you.
Continued in “An Ode to May (Part 4 of 4)“…
posted by ayo