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Dating : Honest Abe

h2>Dating : Honest Abe

Here’s what happened to me. I must tell you this, what happened to me, though it might reveal things about me which are not pretty, which I try my very best to hide. Do not be alarmed. I’m ok. Good, even. I just have thoughts. I can’t control them, but they are there. Always there. They come. They go. I must let them pass without becoming too attached to them. That is my daily work. It’s what the Buddhists are always talking about.

Like many, I suffer from mood swings. From ups and downs. Perhaps they are severe. I don’t know. I am no one but myself. I have to try my best to manage them and create stability within myself and that has taken me a lifetime to begin to cultivate. Some people call this “depression”. I think it probably is, but I have trouble sometimes with slapping labels on things. With labels come stigmas and ideas and with ideas about things come limitations and with limitations come thinking that we really “know” about a thing- risking the relinquish of surprise. I do not want to relinquish surprise. I’m still learning how.

For whatever reason this afternoon, a beautiful afternoon in Brooklyn in early June, sun shining and breeze lightly blowing through the trees, I allowed a thought to creep into my mind. It was a decidedly “negative” thought. “What if,” I told myself, “just what if, I went up on my roof and thew myself off it? Took a running start and leapt? What would happen?” I glanced at my own reflection in the window of a minivan, briefly attaching myself to this thought. I imagined myself not perished, but severely injured, on crutches with a badly damaged head, unable to think straight, barely resembling physically the person that I am now, staring back at me in the tinted reflection. I imagined myself thinking of how stupid that would be, about how short sighted it would be to take a drastic action which I would regret for the rest of my life. I played it all out in my mind. I let myself really feel the reality and weight of it. I continued to stare at myself in the window of the van. It was heavy, man.

Just then, a Hasidic man approached me from across the street.

“Hello there,” he said. He was somewhat heavy set, his white shirt stained with a thin black streak on his left sleeve.

“Hello,” I said, somewhat surprised that he would talk to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been talked to by a Hasid before.

“Could I buy a cigarette off you?” he asked.

I was smoking a cigarette. A thing that I do not normally do but, in times of increased turmoil, something I reluctantly allow myself to slip back into- I told you I would reveal things that weren’t necessarily pretty.

“You don’t have to buy it, you can just have one,” I said, thumbing my nose at this capitalist exchange.

“Thanks, you’re one of those then. The healthy people,” he said. “You don’t need to be smoking. You don’t need to be doing this to yourself.”

“I know,” I said. “But in times of increased turmoil and stress, sometimes I do this.”

“We can’t control when we die, you know” he said to me, seemingly out of the blue. “What are you going to do? Run and throw yourself off the roof of a building? We just can’t control when we die. It’s not up to us.”

I did my best not to be overwhelmed by the “on the nose” nature of his comment, vowing to myself that I would stay in conversation with this man while he was there but that I would write it all down later (that’s what I’m doing now).

“No, we can’t. We most certainly can’t.” I said in agreement.

“What are you upset about? It’s a beautiful day.” he said.

“A girl, pretty much,” I said. “I’m upset about a girl,” all of the complicated thoughts and feelings I’ve had over the last few months boiled down to the simplest of statements.

“What, you were married? You lived here?” he said, motioning to the building with his hands and his eyes. “How much do you pay for rent?”

“I wasn’t married, no. I thought we could be, maybe. About 2900 a month, not including utilities.” I responded.

“Pretty cheap,” he said, then took a pause. “Well, if you weren’t married then there will be another girl. You can go and find another girl. That kind of thing, the feelings you are talking about, that’s not what we do.”

“You guys just get married to one another, yeah? A pre-arranged kind of thing?” I asked, feeling my way through the space between the natural flow of conversation and assumptions I had about him and “his people”.

“Yes, we marry. We decide and we stick to it. We have families. I could never, I would never, I couldn’t do anything. What am I gonna do? Break up my family? It’s not always great, no. But sometimes…We figure out a way to get by. It’s not so much about happiness. It’s about something else.”

“You have kids?” I asked.

“Yeah. Guess how many.”

“Five,” I said.

“Very good,” he said, raising his eyebrows a bit. “How old am I?” he posited, both of us enjoying the guessing game.

“29,” I said.

“Wow. Right on.”

“I just followed my intuition,” I said, raising my eyebrows now.

“How old are you?” he asked me.

“Thirty three,” I said.

“Ah, you’re still young.”

He sat and smoked the remainder of his cigarette. He told me that he lived in Williamsburg and that his name was Abe. I told him my name was David and we had a moment- common for me, at least- where there was some sort of mutual understanding, unspoken but very present nevertheless.

“Ah, so you have a touch of this,” he said, motioning toward his face.

“Yes,” I said. “A touch. Just enough.”

We parted ways and I thought about all that had gone on. I felt distinctly differently than I had when I walked out of my door. Where there was once heaviness and weight, there was a bit of reassurance and ease. Where I was once out of balance, I had been corrected.

Oftentimes, I think there is a great distance between joy and grief, happiness and sadness, gladness and utter despair. I oftentimes view these things as polar opposites, taking great work to shift from one extreme to another. But today, with Abe, I was reminded that perhaps that distance isn’t as long as my mind makes it out to be. Perhaps they are closer than I think. Perhaps it only requires a touch to get from one to the other. A gentle touch, mind you, but a touch. Sometimes from an unlikely stranger.

It was just enough.

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