Interview 12: Tyson

Tyson is one of the most calm and collected people I have ever met. He is often quiet and spends more time listening than speaking, but when he does speak, it is softly and slowly, in a measured manner–I daresay his speech pattern is rare among our generation, and it is refreshing. He seems very selective about the moments he chooses to speak up, but when he does, you don’t want to miss it. Our coworkers are often surprised when Tyson’s humor comes out due to his quiet and unassuming nature, but you can tell from his eyes when he is about to drop a wicked one-liner that may leave his audience gasping for air–a wryness comes over his face and I make sure to tune in.

I find Tyson to be one of my favorite people to talk to due to his depth of character and multifaceted personality. He is, as another coworker described, “jacked”; he is thoughtful and kind; he is curious about others and their opinions; and he is deeply religious. I’ve known many members of the Church of Latter Day Saints in my life, but Tyson is the first one I would consider a close friend, and so I was ecstatic when he agreed to sit down to an interview. One of the things I enjoy the most about this blog is the opportunity to discuss topics that may be considered “taboo” with people I truly respect–and Tyson is completely open to conversing about his faith and what it means to him, so cutting the interview at my usual twenty-minute mark was heart-breaking–but even in those twenty minutes, I had learned so much more than I could have anticipated. Throughout the interview, Tyson’s quiet confidence and security in his beliefs became more and more evident. If I ever need someone to represent something I believe in, I want it to be Tyson. 

Interview 12: Tyson

“It’s cool to spend two years completely forgetting about yourself and focusing on the bigger picture:  God. It’s a pretty big turning point in anyone’s life. Then, you come back and jump into your regular life and you’re forever changed because of it.”

Me: So, Tyson, I don’t know if you’ve read of any of my blog, but the way I have people start out is I have them tell me a brief picture of their life story in terms of religion. So how you came to where you are currently—just tell me about your whole life!

Tyson: So…both of my parents are Mormon, or LDS.

Me: Which one’s better?

Tyson: Mormon is a term that a lot of non-members call us, but we don’t really call ourselves Mormons. We’re LDS, which means Latter Day Saints.  A “Saint” is a follower of Christ, “Latter Day” means “last days.”  I was born into it, and to some degree, a lot of my extended family are too—but a lot aren’t, as well. You’re baptized when you’re eight, not when you’re born, and it’s your choice.

Me: So like Baptists.

Tyson: Mhmm. It’s your parents’ choice as well. Some people don’t want to until later—a lot of kids are baptized at eight. It’s just an age of accountability. You go to church every Sunday, where there are Sunday school classes for kids, teenagers, adults, etc. Once you graduate high school, both boys and girls have the option, if you choose, to go on a mission. It’s not really a requirement—you’re not forced to. There might be a little bit of social pressure just because a lot of your friends might be going, but you’re not really urged to go unless it’s for the right reasons. Once you graduate from high school you see a lot of LDS kids having a little bit of a soul searching phase, trying to figure out if it’s really for them, or not, and if it’s real or if they feel that it’s true. I definitely had a phase like that. But when it came down to it, I felt like the message of the gospel that I had been taught my whole life was full, peaceful, logical, happy and it’s something that makes other people happy, so it was worth pushing off college for two years and pursuing.  So yeah, I served a two year mission, spent in service and gospel teaching and spending a lot of time in the community. Hardly any of your time is your own on a mission—you’re told what you need to be doing, but it’s kind of cool to spend two years completely forgetting about yourself and focusing on the bigger picture:  God. It’s a pretty big turning point in anyone’s life. Then, you come back and jump into your regular life and you’re forever changed because of it.  And now I’m here.

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Tyson, possibly giving me side-eye, possibly because I was trying to convince him that he should have some decaf coffee. (He politely declined).

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Riding in Cars with Muslims (or, #LoveTrumpsHate)

My dear friends and respected readers, I have to get something out.

It seems to me that our nation is at a crossroads. I suppose it could be said that we are always at a crossroads, but this one feels like a fundamental shift in the American paradigm.

A leading candidate for our commander-in-chief can spout vitriol unimpeded. And the people cheer. They cheer!

Now, I’m not here to talk about Trump’s chosen policies or recommended plans of action, or even his desire for Russia’s assistance in bringing his opponent down. I’m here, as so many out there on the Internet are, to speak out against his seething hatred of the unknown.

I say the unknown, because in his actions and his words, Trump has made it clear he knows very little. Very little about the people he wants to kick out of the country. The Mexicans, who “don’t send their best”. The Muslims, who should be kicked out of our country. Women.  Black Lives Matter activists. The impoverished. Anyone who dissents against him must be evil, because in Trumpworld (copyright pending), Trump is God!

Now, Donald Trump is a special case. Sitting on high in his gilded castle, he does not seek to see reason. He has never had to try to understand the perspective of those less privileged than him. He is impenetrable.

But imagine! Imagine if his followers were able to sit down, breathe, and take a second. To stop being scared about “everything they have taken from us”. If they could instead have a simple conversation with their Muslim or Latino brothers and sisters—not about anything serious, but perhaps about the weather or over a hearty meal or while planting a tree—would they still harbor that deep-seeded hate?

“With praying, it’s something that will make your life easier, yeah? You’re not stressing out, you’re not getting mad, you just clean your heart. The more you face God, the more you’re feeling confidence.”  –Uber Driver #1

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Interview 11: Trishya

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to post a new interview once a month. Obviously…it is not going that well. I find that people are much more open about discussing religion in the South—it’s so deeply integrated into daily life that the topic comes up very organically. Now that I live in Denver, I find that religion—especially personal religious beliefs—is rarely brought up. I feel the same kind of nervousness asking someone if I can interview them that I imagine one feels when asking another person out on a date. Luckily, I have some great friends who have agreed to let me interview them!

Trishya is one of those wonderful friends. We met when she started working on my team—I’d been on the team for about six months, so I was basically an old-timer at that point. The first thing that struck me about Trishya was her wide bright smile. She’s deeply intelligent and dedicated to her work, and that is quickly apparent, but the thing I love most about her is the ease with which a smile breaks across her face. She finds joy in the smallest things—her positivity and effervescence brighten even my worst days. Encouragement comes naturally to her—if anyone is having a rough day, she knows exactly what to say to put the pep back in their step. And it’s not crafted—it’s genuine and comes straight from her heart. She makes me want to be the person she sees in me. I don’t believe it’s possible to not be delighted by her presence.

She’s also my yoga buddy—I wouldn’t go to yoga most days without her holding me accountable—so after one lovely Saturday morning yoga class, she agreed to sit down with me in a coffee shop so we could discuss religion. The discussion was fascinating and her philosophical depth is apparent—I could have asked many more questions, and I hope to in the future.

Without further ado, my first interview of 2016…Trishya!

Interview 11: Trishya

“I totally subscribe to the belief that your physical being is completely temporary, and the essence of who you are–which I don’t even think I’ve scraped the surface of–is eternal.”

Me: I’m going to start out by asking you to go through how you were raised and how that brought you to what you believe today.

Trishya: I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. My entire family is from India, my parents moved to the United States in the early 80’s, they lived in Chicago for a while. I come from a huge extended family ….and so I grew up Hindu. And I think that’s such a strange word to me, because Hinduism—as I grew older, as I had more discussions about the religion and the faith and the philosophy with my friends—I came to realize, the “-ism” of Hinduism is a very Western concept. If you go to the middle of India, the backwaters of India, and you ask someone, “Do you practice Hinduism?”, they’ll be like, “What? What do you mean? What’s Hinduism?” Discovering that philosophy, discovering that faith and applying it to a different context than the context that my parents were raised in has been a huge road to self-discovery and understanding my identity as a Hindu Indian-American.

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Acceptance

Note: By asking people to sit down and interview with me, they have to be willing to be a little vulnerable. Here, I’m taking a turn—if I ask people to open up to me, I have to be able to do it myself.

Anyone who knows me knows that I can be considered a comic-book nerd. It’s essentially public record, given my propensity for excited Facebook statuses regarding new Marvel films and my easily prompted rant about the reasons Batman is the greatest superhero.

When I settled in on Saturday to watch the newest product of Marvel’s partnership with Netflix, Jessica Jones, I was incredibly eager to see how the superhero-turned-private-investigator would be portrayed. The partnership’s first effort, Daredevil, was gritty and exciting to watch (though it felt a bit too heavy in the later episodes). I also am a huge fan of Krysten Ritter, stemming from her appearances in Gilmore Girls and her tragic role in Breaking Bad (and don’t get me started about the incredibly under-appreciated Don’t trust the B*tch in Apartment 23).

I watched all thirteen episodes over a period of 24 hours.

I hadn’t really intended to binge-watch the entire series. I tend to watch television more as something to have on while I perform other tasks—cooking, cleaning, even working on the rare (…maybe) occasions that I bring my work home.

Then the first episode grabbed me and took me somewhere I had not expected to go. I related to Jessica on a level beyond appreciating her strength and witty repartee with other characters. I understood what she was going through.

To explain this, I will have to give a little backstory into the show/the character of Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones was introduced in a series of comics known as Alias. She’s a private investigator who just so happens to also have superpowers (the comics go a little further into this part of her history, explaining her brief venture into super-heroism under the name Jewel).

Jessica left her role as Jewel behind after falling under the thrall of Kilgrave (or Killgrave, in the comics). Kilgrave has the power of mind control, essentially—he can force anyone to do what he says, no matter the cost to themselves. He speaks, and his orders are performed.

Kilgrave forces Jessica to become both his partner in crime as well as his lover. When the series opens, Jessica has escaped this prolonged servitude and is experiencing what can only be described as PTSD.

As I watched Jessica in the first few episodes, I realized I was intimately familiar with her situation. I was familiar with her self-destructive spiral as she pushed everyone away, with her flashbacks that seemed to come out of nowhere, with her reaction to the places and things that triggered deeply upsetting memories.

This is where this essay gets personal.

I don’t remember a lot of college. This may sound like a silly assertion, or a bawdy proclamation of my party-hardy college days, but it is very different. In general, I remember everything. You can ask my parents—it drove them nuts for years. Forgetting what someone said at particular moment on a particular day was impossible, let alone entire chunks of time.

And then I met him. And my world went dark.

I could tell you the overarching story of our relationship. The first happy month. The turn in his behavior. The lies I caught him in, and the ones I suspected. The number of times I lied to friends. The ways he broke me into pieces and built me back up into what he wanted. How angry he got with me. My own desperation over my need for his approval, as well as my confusion over my inability to leave such a toxic relationship.

But the story of the relationship is not what I’m here to talk about.

It is incredibly difficult for me to write about my own emotions, especially my emotions about that time in my life. I can easily write about the value of all human life, but finding the words to describe when I didn’t value my own requires reaching much deeper.

I feel separated from that Lillie, the one who experienced the awfulness. I boxed up my college years in my mind and I set them on fire. All I have left are the little scraps I let trickle through, and the few friends I held onto after college.

And then I watched Jessica jump at a voice in her head and I felt it.

I watched her walk into a restaurant and have a memory forced upon her and I knew that moment.

I saw how she had pushed her old friends away and I remembered.

I hate to use the term “abusive relationship.” I often worry about invalidating worse relationships by using those words. He never hit me.

But he controlled me. I did only what I knew he wanted. I became a person I didn’t know. And in the end, it took me years to rebuild myself. Not just in terms of gaining back the weight that I lost, or building back the relationships I had broken, or working hard enough to prove my poor grades were not a reflection of my intelligence or drive in any way.

I had to re-construct my entire self. I had to look at the shattered Lillie and remove the pieces that weren’t me, glue back together the pieces that were, and search for new pieces where the originals were lost.

The fear that penetrated my being, the darkness that had consumed my soul—I’m still dealing with vestiges of that pain. I still hear klaxons and feel a pang of awful dread when I see the particular type of car he drove. I still feel nauseous and clench my jaw when a memory of him surfaces. I still feel my heart rate rise when his name is mentioned.

I had not realized how much that relationship had affected me. How much it still affects me, to this day. I knew it had ruined my college years for me, but I had thought they were in the past.

I am much stronger now. I laugh and say I learned a lot from college. And I did.

I assumed all it would take was time. That time would go on and the pain would be more distant. And it has. But I’ve realized that I won’t truly be able to bury the past. I have to accept it as a part of who I am, as a part of my story.

So here I am. Trying to accept myself completely. To accept my entire story, and not just pieces of it. To not just accept the growth that came from my experience, but the entire experience for itself.

I lived through it, and now I live on.

 

 

Humanity and Fear

This blog is not intended to be a place where I stand on my soapbox and shout my opinions at people. It is intended to be a forum where I ask others about their thoughts and beliefs. It is intended to encourage open-mindedness and acceptance of everyone, of every belief structure and life path.

I did not write during the time of the Great Starbucks Cup Debacle, nor the Facebook Filter Snafu. Perhaps because I am lucky enough (or sheltered enough) to not know any people who voiced concerns over either trivial issue, so I was able to pretend that no one actually cared about such things.

However, I have seen postings on Facebook and the like about whether or not we should allow refugees into our country, into our states, into our homes. And while I prefer to write with a calm mind and a balanced perspective, at this moment in time, I am seething.

How dare you.

How DARE you?

So many of those I see sprouting this fear-based hatred, this bigotry, this vile closed-mindedness—you are the same people who claim a strong faith.

“Allowing refugees into our country opens us up to attack,” you say. “Terrorists are among the refugees,” you claim, holding strong to your fear and letting it bleed into your soul, letting it poison any lessons your scripture may have taught you, letting it rot your heart.

Syria, the attacks in Lebanon, the attacks in France—these are devastating, heart-wrenching demonstrations of hatred. The power of ISIS is hatred—a hatred created by fear. The leaders of ISIS crave power and they have planted a seed of fear that blossomed into the crises we are facing today. To gain their power, they needed to convert minds, and what better tool than our own human weakness? Our ability to fear others, to hate them, this is what allows us to fall into the blackness, into a group that menaces a modern society. The United States and Europe have held the power for a century, as powerful allies that decided the fate of nations, as enlightened republics seeking innovation, and to take that power, groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS must weaponize fear.

And so they have.

They spread the fear to gain recruits that we are evil and will destroy their homes if given a chance. They allow the fear to fester, to create a loathing more powerful than their own desires for life. And then they place the fear in us.

Terrorism is exactly that. It spreads terror. And I must say, we are letting them win.

I in no way intend to diminish the devastation these attacks have caused. The ruthlessness with which terrorists can take life is atrocious. I find myself bordering on hopelessness when I hear of humans taking other human lives—it takes such a lack of respect for the gift we have all been given, the life force we all share. It takes de-humanizing one another.

And that is what we do in turn when we refuse to open our doors to refugees.

It is so easy to spout words of hatred when you are not looking those you are affecting in the eye. When you do not know their stories, their own personal journeys. I seek here to learn about the journeys of as many people as possible, partially because I see that capacity for hatred in myself.  It is easy for me to dismiss a person or a belief if I do not understand the story behind the person or the belief.

We cannot dismiss refugees in this way.

They are seeking asylum, they are seeking safety—the things we have in abundance, they have none. Is it not our responsibility as fellow humans to open our doors and our hearts to them? If you are Christian, do you not think that Jesus would be saddened by our lack of compassion for others? Would He have let fear corrupt Him in such a way?

Instead of being overly cautious, which is creating our worst selves, why not focus on the good we can do and being our best selves? This is not about who the refugees are. This is about who we are.

 

I was lucky enough to attend a high school where we openly discussed our beliefs and thoughts. This meant I was exposed to many different opinions. One day I was in a Spanish class and I don’t remember how the subject came up, but we were discussing terrorism and its effect on immigration. One student ventured the following:

“I don’t see why we allow people from certain countries into the United States. I don’t think we should.”

I was livid.

You may recall that my father is from one of those countries that the student was discussing. This was in the time of “The Axis of Evil”, the three countries we decided to fear the most.

I am certainly biased, but my father is one of the most kind and caring men I have ever met. He cares deeply for others—sometimes even to the detriment of his own well-being. He participates in charity work and is well respected in his field. He is a citizen of the United States and I believe his story is just one of many variations of the American Dream.

Does his Iranian ethnicity make him unworthy of living here?

If we had decided to turn Iranians away during the Iranian Revolution and the aftermath, if he had been deported as a student, I don’t know what would have happened to him. But I can’t imagine he would have had a very good life. He has always been vocal about inequality and injustice (unsurprising, as he is an attorney). I shudder to think what would have happened once the Muslim government found out about his liberal leanings—or what he would have done. Many of his friends became revolutionaries. Would he have done the same? Would he have been imprisoned? Would he have been killed?

The Syrian refugees and refugees around the world deserve our love and support in this dire time. Any other reaction is unworthy of our status as fellow humans. In the end, we are all made of the same materials, the same atomic structures—“We’re made of star stuff,” as Carl Sagan once said. When we dismiss the humanity of others and their needs, we lose the light of the stars that we contain in our beings, and we embrace fear, the darkness. I believe we should instead embrace one another, and thus embrace the light.

Some Thoughts on Depression

There is a certain numbness that comes with depression. I find that when I am depressed, I feel nothing in the morning. I go about my routine in a complete emotional and spiritual void. And then sometime in the afternoon or evening, something changes and the darkness filters in.

In these times, I want to be alone, and yet being alone is the worst thing I can do for myself. Alone, it is easier to be overwhelmed by the depths of my depression—easy to let the tiredness sink into my bones and stop me from moving, easy to let the awful thoughts creep in and the overwhelming sadness to settle on my chest, a heavy weight, a prison I can’t escape.

I know my weariness is depression when I start wanting to hide. To get under my desk. To get in my closet and lay on the floor. To fold into nothingness and disappear until the sun comes up and I am temporarily relieved of the aching black hole in my chest.

I knew when I moved to a city where I had few friends that there would be a period of depression. And yes, it has come and gone and I deal with it when it pokes its head around a corner to mournfully stare me down.

I have many friends who know depression. I support them when they let me. And they support me, when I let them.

The reason I write today is because of a recent tragedy. A friend of mine from high school took his own life.

We weren’t that close in high school. We were friendly and had many classes together and occasionally hung out with mutual friends. But he had an easy-going spirit that drew people in, he was kind and funny and charming. We had inside jokes with one another and knowing that we had that made my life better, because to be friends with this boy felt like being accepted into a happy world where dreams could come true—he seemed endlessly optimistic and delighted with what the world had to offer.

I would never have guessed he suffered from depression. I knew some things about his personal life that might have indicated something, but my memories of him were too bright for me to even consider it.

When he went off to college, I checked in on Facebook occasionally to see how he was doing. I always imagined great things for him. He was creative and smart and I couldn’t imagine the world doing anything but raining accolades upon him.

At one point over the past year or so, I noticed he had disappeared. He had either unfriended everyone or deleted his old Facebook and gotten a new one—I could see he existed on the social network but he was no longer my “Friend”. I thought it was odd but not that odd—we hadn’t spoken in several years. I was slightly hurt but I forgot almost immediately.

This is when my heart breaks.

I think, “I should have known! I should have seen! He was cutting everyone out!”

But I must force myself to admit that I don’t really know. I don’t know anything about his life for the past several years. What I do know is pieced together from rumors and secondhand stories.

All I know for certain is that this sweet person with a twinkle in his eye felt enough overwhelming despair that he could no longer take it.

It’s no one’s fault. But it is so easy to feel like I could have done something. It’s ludicrous, I know. Grief manifests in ways that are easily dismissed logically but impossible to shake emotionally.

I’m rambling. It’s hard for me to organize my thoughts when I am so profoundly shaken. But I do have a few points that I want to get across:

  • Support each other. Never ask “why?” but always ask “what do you need?”
  • Understand that even the person who smiles the most can be hiding their own darkness.
  • Mourn the lost, but never place blame.
  • Love.
  • If you are depressed, let yourself be loved. It’s difficult and can seem impossible at times. But it helps.

To my dear friend,

It hurts me greatly to think of your last moments. My heart aches for your suffering, and for those you have left behind. I wish peace and love upon you and upon your family.

I will remember you forever for the joy you brought to my life.

#LivesMatter

I’m currently in Brazil so I get all my news from the internet, which is how I found out about the shooting in North Carolina. I want to take a moment to discuss something with y’all.

It seems that there is some confusion as to what the murderer’s motive was—I’ve seen articles asserting he shot and killed three young adults over a parking dispute. Ignoring the religious/racial aspect of the murders for a moment, this idea alone is ridiculous, and a great example of why gun control is needed. Don’t get me wrong, I love guns. I shoot them for fun. At a piece of paper. In a range. However, I do not own one, because I do not need one. But I digress, this blog is not here to debate gun control issues, and I’m not well versed enough in the intricacies of that debate to assert a solid opinion (the one thing I know I believe is that background checks should be mandatory).

A man, possibly angered over a parking issue, murdered three people.

Over a parking issue.

Now, in the next several days, there will be many debates over whether or not it matters that the three victims were Muslim. Pundits will argue back and forth about whether this man would have killed these people if they had been WASPs, and whether he should be labeled a terrorist. Hypotheticals will be bandied about in an effort to eat airtime and justify the profit made off of commercials.

So does the religion of the victims matter?

Yes. Yes it does. But not necessarily in the way we might think.

This man may not hate Muslims. I don’t know him, I don’t know what went through his head. But I do know he looked at three people in anger and shot them. And this tells me something. It tells me how little he valued their lives.

As humans, we have a tendency to categorize other humans. It’s our nature. It makes it easier for us to draw connections, easier for us to think we understand the world and the people in it. This person is Christian. That person is Muslim. That other person is Jewish. This person is conservative, that person liberal. This person rich, that person poor. This person religious, this person not. We walk around every day and we carry our labels. We are asked to define ourselves using them. Life is simpler that way.

There is a movement out there in the media and in politics that defines Christians as good, Jews as less good, and Muslims as evil. Cities fight to forbid mosques from being built. Extremist pundits argue that it is not possible to be Muslim without hating America. Most of us know better, but the message is there, and it is prevalent. It eats away at us as we argue over Islam and forget that we are talking about other human beings.

This insidious message got to this man, this murderer. He was angry. Maybe at Muslims, maybe about parking. But either way, he saw Muslims, and he did not think of them as living, breathing humans. He looked at two women and saw their headscarves instead of their beautiful faces. He looked at another man and did not see an equal.

And so three lives, filled to the brim with potential, were tragically cut short.

What are we doing?

It is time to stop categorizing. It is time to stand up for the only category that matters, humanity. I am human and you are my brethren. It is easy to get angry at each other as we encounter one another in the world, but at the core, beneath the superficial slights, we share a consciousness, a knowledge of each other, a bond beyond comprehension.

We should be judged individually, on our own merits, or not at all.

Please take a moment today to value the lives of 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and mourn their loss. We owe it to them.

And then take another moment to value all life, this beautiful gift we have been given that can be so easily taken away. Hug someone and hold them close. That is humanity. We are beings of love.

Interview 10: Robert

HELLO AND HAPPY 2015! This year is going to be a good one, y’all. I can tell. Let’s get to our first interview of the year!

Funny story, I met Robert on Tinder. Except I kind of already knew who he was when I found him, because I had seen his picture on Facebook. He’s my sorority sister Katie’s brother–and I knew how awesome Katie is (seriously awesome), so I thought, hey, I can swipe right on this guy! He’s a real person! And so our friendship began. (My relationship with Tinder was much shorter–I’m done with that craziness). Robert and I haven’t hung out a ton, but when we do we just talk and talk and time flies by. He’s a fascinating individual and seems to burst with energy–his lust for life and  thirst for knowledge are unparalleled–which will soon become apparent, as you read through the interview. As I could have predicted, the interview ran long and we went off on tangents a few times–that’s the nature of our conversations–but I hope you read it all, it’s worth it.

Interview 10: Robert

“It’s not for me to say “I comprehend how this works”, it’s for me to say “I’m Catholic, and these are mysteries that I understand as they’ve been revealed to us.””

Me: [Would you] tell me what your own spiritual journey has been, over your life so far?

Robert: So…I’ve had a kind of up and down relationship with my personal religious spiritual beliefs. My family is Catholic, I was raised Catholic – a lot of people don’t realize that Catholicism is a much larger universe than just the Roman Catholic church downtown, for instance. So although I was raised Roman Catholic in the sense that most people think of when they hear the term, my father’s family, being Lebanese, was originally Maronite Catholic, Maronites being one of the twenty-three branches of the Eastern Catholic Church—not Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic. In a nutshell—I’ll try to keep myself from giving the explanation that I have practiced—there are numerous rites–sort of like sects–that recognizes the primacy of the Pope, and recognizing the primacy of the Pope is essentially the defining factor of what we call Roman Catholic. So the Maronite Catholic Church, the Maronite rite, is one that uses Arabic as its vernacular language and Syriac as its liturgical language. It has a different background, a different set of traditions, a different focus than the Latin-speaking church has. The Latin speaking church has a stronger tradition of rational philosophy, the Eastern church has a stronger tradition of mysticism, of looking for symbols in everything.

Me: Which would make sense, given the traditions of Arabic cultures. There’s more of a proclivity towards mysticism, I find, in the Middle East.

Robert: Yes, I don’t know to what extent this is oversimplifying things, but to me it seems like the Latin church has inherited a lot of the Greek philosophical tradition, and the Eastern churches have retained a lot of the more native Semitic religious influences, which are always quite mystic. Catholicism itself—Christianity itself—is mystic Judaism, so that’s present all throughout any branch of Christianity, but in the Eastern rites especially. In any case, that’s only to say that I was raised Roman Catholic and very early on found myself questioning the strictures of the Church. I was essentially agnostic probably from ten on, for four or five years. You know, I’d grown up reading the Greek myths and you’re not going to tell me that Zeus isn’t real but this guy up in heaven is, I’ll listen to ya but you’re not making any rational arguments. Um… Lillie’s making a great face of agreement right now. (laughs)

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Me: That’s almost exactly when I decided I was agnostic. When I was like 10.

Robert: Exactly. I specifically remember, I had this whole mythology—not really mythology, this whole explanation worked up when I was really young, Dad still talks about this, I was like eight or something? Because we would go to Sunday school, and we would get all these lessons, and I’m listening to all these lessons and stories and I’m thinking, “This is mythology.” But I loved it, I was like, this is great, this just fits in with what I already know about mythology, about the Greek myths—and they were like “No no no, those aren’t real.” So I would go home and I would explain–I had this whole “Hercules is Jesus” thing going on. It all made sense in my head. But when I realized that there was so much pushback from people, from kind of the official church itself: (changes voice) “No, you can’t believe that, Zeus is fake and God is real”, and I…headed out. When we came back to the states—did I tell you we lived in Germany?

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Music for the Soul

Hello everyone and happy holiday season!

It turns out that when I was traveling for work and studying for the GMAT, everything else in my life fell by the wayside and I stopped pursuing potential interviews. But I’m hoping to line up some good ones before I travel again in January–wish me luck!

Since it is now December, it seems to everyone is bringing out the Christmas music. To me, the ultimate Christmas music is Handel’s Messiah, but that could be because I performed it as part of the orchestra for four years (and returned to play it for four years after that–my high school lets alums play/sing, and it was family tradition while my sister was in high school).

All this music swelling around me everywhere I go has led me to dwell on the power that music holds. Many people I have interviewed/spoken to outside the interview format have spoken of music and the strange way it can touch (for lack of a better word) the soul. I grew up in a household filled with music–my dad’s passion for classical music is both inspiring and at times grating. My favorite Christmas movie as a young child was Maurice Sendak’s production of the Nutcracker (which is insane and amazing, by the way). My favorite toy was an old electric keyboard at which I would pound away, making what sounded to me like beautiful music (but I’m sure was not).

The first time I consciously realized that music could bring me to tears (as far as I remember) was when I was in chorus in the fifth grade. We were practicing ‘Bist du bei Mir’, and I found myself overwhelmed by the sadness and longing in the song–which is in German. I didn’t need to understand the words. The intent is in the melody.

In middle school and high school, I was in the orchestra. Playing an instrument, as a part of a whole, can be a glorious and transcendent experience. I could forget whatever angsty problem I was having and stop thinking, stop existing within my limited experience and even within the parameters of my own body. I felt lifted, outside physical boundaries, truly and deeply moved.

I was lucky enough to go to Kenya in high school–and there I discovered that perhaps I did believe in a higher power. We attended what appeared to be a choir practice for the students of the boarding school at which we were staying–and I was awestruck. The Kenyan students seemed to be so deeply within the music that they could harmonize effortlessly. There were perhaps fifteen to twenty students, singing and dancing and somehow existing in a different state of being. And it wasn’t an isolated experience. I found it again when we went to church services with them, and once again when one sweet girl sang us a Natalie Furtado song the night before we were leaving. We sat in the dorm, on our beds, as she started to sing–and the other girls picked up the harmony instantly. The song itself is a decent song–but from these girls, it brought me to tears.

Most of my personal examples of music that has moved me or reached me in a particular way are tunes in a minor key, or with a certain sadness to them–a beauty tinged with pain. But there is music that can make one feel triumphant and joyous as well. One of my favorite pieces of music of all time is Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3, “Organ”. You may recognize it:

Now, most of my examples are classical–but there are also some great modern musicians today. Take a listen to Sufjan Steven’s “Casimir Pulaski Day”, Gregory Alan Isakov’s “This Empty Northern Hemisphere”, or Vienna Teng’s “The Hymn of Acxiom”. These are just a few of the songs that I have needed at particular times in my life. (Also, the Hymn of Acxiom is particularly interesting, given its subject matter.) And I will also add that at one time, I needed Avenged Sevenfold’s “So Far Away”: when my grandfather died, it was one of the only songs I listened to. (If that isn’t your thing and you have experienced a loss, Anoushka Shankar’s album “Traces of You” is a salute to her father, Ravi Shankar, and includes collaborations with her sister, Norah Jones.)

Music unites us in a way very few things can. I think Neiloy summed it up incredibly well in his interview:

“There’s no biological incentive or advantage given to us for wanting to, for example, dance along with music, to feel it in us and be moved and lifted by it. There’s no biological imperative for that but it’s still something that we all seem to experience….it is, to me, evidence that yes, there is something beyond the nuts and bolts of what we are.”

So this holiday season, I hope you listen to whatever music puts you into the spirit, or helps you feel your spirit, or takes you outside whatever pettiness comes along (come on, you know it can happen). I’ll leave you with my favorite part of Handel’s Messiah.

Interview 9: Emily

Once again, sorry for the gaps in posts. Traveling internationally takes a toll on the blogging! If you want to be updated when I post a new interview, you can subscribe via email (at the bottom of the page), via WordPress, or you’ll see it when I post it on Facebook (since I assume many of you are my Facebook friends). But let’s get to the point–my interview with Emily!

I met Emily over seven years ago, at nerd camp–the Governor’s Honor’s Program in Georgia. We were both selected as “Communicative Arts” majors, a fancy way of saying “bookworms”. The first time I saw her, I knew I was looking at a kindred spirit. I don’t really know why. But we’ve been friends ever since. We went to different high schools and different colleges, but in Atlanta, so we saw each other at least a few times a year and spoke frequently.

Emily once wrote on her blog (check it out, it’s witty and poignant and fantastic) that she feels about me “roughly the same as Leslie Knope feels about Anne Perkins,” which is probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me. And if I am Anne Perkins, she is definitely my Leslie Knope. She’s smarter and more focused, positively adorable, and overall a better person than I–and I would HAPPILY punch anyone for her or make her a last minute wedding dress. She’s also wickedly funny. And I know if I needed her, she would drop everything and be here for me in a second. She’s that kind of friend.

When transcribing interviews, I usually have to edit out a few shared jokey moments or make some things clearer because of my history with the interviewee. What I discovered during my interview with Emily is that not only do we have a habit of understanding where each other is going and interrupting–we also don’t finish sentences because we know the other knows what we are thinking. The result was an interview that made me laugh out loud while I transcribed it and also required a lot of editing for clarity. I’m still not so sure that some of my questions are clear–but Emily knew what I meant. There’s also a bit toward the end where we both started crying–I didn’t keep the actual crying in the transcribed interview, but you’ll probably be able to tell where. We managed to pack a LOT of interview into less than thirty minutes–so this one is a bit long, but it’s definitely worth the read.

Interview 9: Emily

“To be remembered, and remembered well by people you have helped, is a motivation for doing good works, and also for making as much of an impact as you can in your time on this planet.”

Me: If you would go through how you were raised, and how that brought you to where you are religion-wise today?

Emily: Sure! So…my mother was raised as a practicing Reform Jew, and kind of quit practicing herself when she was in high school, and didn’t really identify as a practicing Jew past that point. My dad was raised…my paternal grandfather was raised fairly strictly Baptist and my paternal grandmother is the daughter of a Methodist minister and went to a Methodist college on scholarship as a result. Both of them, I think, had fairly aggressively lost their faith by the time they went to grad school, and they were both in a PhD program, that’s how they met…they were super into the Beats, that was their whole deal, so they super didn’t believe in anything. They identified, I think, my grandfather in particular identifies as an atheist, and so raised my dad not as anything, and my dad pretty aggressively identifies as an atheist at this point, but an atheist descended of Christian stock, so I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter as non-religious but family holidays. We’d go visit my grandparents.

Emily

We always did Thanksgiving with my mom’s side of the family so as a result—because on that side of the family, everyone else is still practicing Jews—we would do Hanukkah then, just called it good. Beyond that, my cousins on that side of the family were all named growing up, so we’d go to my grandmother’s synagogue for the naming; when my grandmother died we had an unveiling after a year–so that side of the family is actually Jewish, and my sister and my dad and I are kind of the anomaly there. So yeah, I was raised—that was kind of roundabout—was raised not really believing anything, didn’t have to go to church, didn’t have to go to synagogue, didn’t have to do any of those things, which was considered super weird by the standards of Tulsa, which is where I grew up. My sister and I used to joke that we’re Jewtheists, but like—there’s a difference, I think, between atheists who …walked away from the faith they were raised in versus people who just weren’t raised with any of that, and we fall into the latter camp. We were never rejecting anything, we just weren’t raised practicing as anything. So as a result, my sister and I both went to Emory, my dad works for Emory, my mom worked for Emory—which is…Methodist affiliated—and so, I don’t think we ever had any issues with that particularly, liberal Methodists being the Unitarians of the Protestant denominations, and so my sister was in the Glenn Methodist Youth Group growing up, and did that kind of stuff; I was involved in the Inter-Religious Council in college…we weren’t really ever like “Fuck religion, it’s the worst,” but we just didn’t—it wasn’t ours.

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