On our walk back from the park, my nephew picked up a maple leaf from the ground and began wiping it against the sides of his cheeks and neck.
When I gave him a suspicious look he said, "It's my sweat leaf ," with that clear-eyed grin that says I'm doing something peculiar but pretending like you're the weird one. So I didn't question.
Every few blocks, as we passed more and more people I knew, I kept glancing over to check and see if he was still sponging himself with that leaf. Whenever I did, sure enough, that leaf was down the back of his polo, behind his ear, or rubbed against his forehead. But I couldn't reprimand him A. because when we left the park he hadn't given me grief B. for Heaven's sake it's a leaf and C. the way he cherished it made me want my own sweat leaf.
A few blocks from home, he began to yell. He covered his eyes with the maple, pretending the sweat leaf had become a monster and was attacking his face.
We both stopped and looked at each other in a who-can-laugh-last showdown. He unfurled the corners, revealing a sidelong smile and we stood there waiting for the first one of us to crack-up.
My lips raised up making that creamy pop like opening a yogurt container.
The contained laughter made galloping waves in his chest cavity.
I couldn't make it to the third heartbeat.
We drowned the noise of play-dates and traffic with squeals of sweat leaves on Sacramento Ave., and in that moment I can truly say I regretted my 2-year Aliya plan.
These past few months I've been 100 percent career oriented- meeting with mentors at Starbucks, taking night classes to graduate on time and landing a winter internship at a newspaper in a foreign country- and with all this networking in the States, with all these relationships I've cultivated and bridges I've built, I feel like I'm flippantly throwing it all to the wind by even entertaining the thought of moving.
As I push myself to get my short stories published, as I circle hungrily around positions at The News York Times, Washington Post and NPR, I can't help but think that America is the only place I can be professionally successful.
Why? Because I know the language. I have the connections here to get me where I want. I have the family infrastructure to support me during rough periods. I have a mom who will move me into my first home. There, I can only assume it will be hard.
I always meet interesting people in economics class. First there was the mustache-goatee combo guy who enjoys building motorcycles and then there was Rose from Rowanda who is moving to Dupont Circle and took down my number to meet up for lunch.
Last week, a week before our final exam, there was Way Lyn. She asked me how I did on the last test. Pretty crumby. Her? Not at all what she hoped for. We were both struggling to teach ourselves to sink or swim in a classroom environment where the lifeguard turned out to be fireman. He thought he was saving us, but was really just adding more water.
Way Lyn and I got to talking about our jobs. She works at Starbucks for their 5 a.m. shift until around 11. She works weekends too, going door to door selling window blinds. When she's not in economics shes taking a math class in the same building. She told me how difficult it is to do well in her classes, how she cant afford to buy or rent the textbook so she studies from it in the library for three hours at a time. But, it's okay, she says, her house is too loud to do work there anyways.
Way Lyn wants to go into business. I asked if she had any business internships . No. Does she have any contacts to help her get one. No.
When she asked what I do, I didn't want to answer. I told her I was working as a grant writer, but didn't give much detail. When she asked what high school I went to, and I told her, she beamed. She had heard it was a terrific school.
She looked at me from my suede oxfords to my sleek laptop on the desk and her face grew serious and very contemplative. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "I am so happy for you. You have your entire future all lined up for you. You're going to be really comfortable in life and I am honestly really happy for you." I didn't know what to say or what to do. I just felt honestly--pathetic.
In contrast, yesterday I wrote to a trustee who is sitting atop a 2.5 billion dollar foundation. My knee-jerk reaction was saturated with criticisms until I looked at his 990-form as saw the 15 attached pages of various charities and organizations he supports. It was my daily reminder to judge everyone favorably until you have the full- 8879EO black and white - picture.
When I called my Bubbie the next day and told her how life was handed to me on a silver plate and served to Way Lyn's in a take-out box, she told me to breathe. I felt like Way Lyn's success story is far greater than anything I could accomplish, that however hard I work will never compare to her success. My Bubbie told me not to compare. One day, if God wills it, I will work hard and get to that position where I can help people like Way Lyn. I could be the contact she needs.
What Way Lyn taught me was that in America my "entire future is all lined up," but in Israel nothing is certain. She put a price tag on the life I say that I'm 100 percent willing to exchange. She revealed my stakes on the poker table. No doubt I'll still have to work extremely hard, and of course I'll still be that cliched "starving artist." But in America, at least I know my mom's waiting with piece of hot lasagna on the table.
Truthfully, I'm relocating to a land where I cannot speak fluently, where my familial ties are sparse, and where I have no professional contacts. I am giving away my "comfortable life" and consciously choosing Way's. But besides the money, I'm giving up something far greater, something far greener: all my sweat-leaf moments,
Just spilled a bowl of grapes and excess water in my bed--man's first grape juice spill that won't stain.