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Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Matter of Respect

There was a letter for me from the Academy of Music. "For me? Really? What do you mean?" For me, from the Academy. I didn't want to open it. I'd put all those feelings behind me.

I'd stopped worrying about the fact that I'd never earned a Bagrut certificate, that I hadn't completed those studies, that I never fit in there. Why would I want to open that envelope again?

And anyway, it wasn't like before. When I was there, I didn't get involved in the school, didn't listen to anything the school told me, didn't want to be in the school in the first place, but I respected the school immensely. I could walk around the hallways and hear complex music being practiced and see beautiful dances being practiced, all by people (roughly my age) who I had a tremendous amount of respect for. Not people I wanted to be like, or to ever fit in with, but people I respected for their dedication and skill. But now, I couldn't respect the school anymore. I'd just met Eliezer, who mentioned the terrible politics there that I never really thought about back then. And only a few days later I met Chana -my former English teacher- who told me the school wasn't what it used to be, that even when I first came there it had degraded into a pale imitation of what it once was, and now it was even worse. She said a certain person in power has been ruining the school- in fact, the very same thing Eliezer had implied! She said she keeps telling herself she'll leave, but she never does. "Next year never becomes this year?", I suggested. But she said this next year she'd be leaving for real. Well, after hearing a perspective like that from a teacher I respect (though never listened to), why would I want to open the envelope again?

I opened the envelope. Yes, the letter was printed on the Academy stationary, with the Academy's logo on it. That logo gave me chills. I really didn't want to know what the letter said. I read the letter. It was some sort of ceremony. A "Certificate Ceremony" of some sort. Ha, I thought. No need to get scared- this is like when we had ceremonies, and kids who'd left the school already would come as a sign of respect or something. Phew. This isn't for me. Then I noticed a few more details, like the words "Machzor Mem-Dalet". Wait a minute. That was the number of my grade! Oh no. I reread the title. "Bagrut Certificate Ceremony", it said. No, what could this mean? It's been a year and a half! Things like this are supposed to go away if you ignore them for that long! I noticed another detail at the bottom of the page- the signature of my mekhanekh (my main teacher), who I'd always had a lot of respect for and now never wanted to see again. Most of all, I didn't want to see his name on that page, alongside the other mekhanekhet's name and the name of that aforementioned person in power. This letter was for me.

"I don't understand."

It said to contact one of two numbers to confirm that I was coming. It also said attendance was mandatory. "Mandatory?!", I said as I smiled, "It's not like they can tell me what to do anymore.". The smile was not easy to pull off at that moment, and it was not a particularly successful attempt. But they were never able to tell me what to do, anyway. All the respect in the world wouldn't change my nature as an outsider. I said I'd call later, when I felt like it. And I sat down to do something else, though I suddenly had no idea what that something else might be, because I was too preoccupied with the letter. All my classmates would be there. Hadn't I made a conscious decision to not try to be one of them? Some of those I wouldn't mind seeing again too much (with just a little embarrassment sprinkled in for having made much more of a fool of myself than I would now), but others I never had any connection with, and it bothered me then. Why should I open the old wound? Why should I call this person, who I'd never had a chance to prove myself to, who I never really knew in the first place and don't want to know? Maybe if I.. but I didn't! How I wished that letter hadn't come! But it had come, and I... ARGH.

Within thirty seconds of sitting down, I realized I couldn't put off making the call 'til later. I was so obsessively preoccupied with this letter that I couldn't stop thinking about it for an instant. I had to close the floodgates, and right now. I called the girl.

"Hello? This is Mordechai Buckman. Is this.." and I tried to add into my performance the impression of reading the name off a piece of paper (I actually was.), to suggest that I didn't know this name, didn't know that I had ever seen this person in my life. (I actually did remember the name, if you must know.) I think my delivery was pretty good, especially considering the pressure I was under. "I got something in the mail which I don't understand. It's for some sort of ceremony..?" She told me that there'd been some sort of problem with the grading of the English tests, and they only got done now -a year and a half after her grade was supposed to get these certificates! "In any case, it doesn't matter.", I said. "I'm not meant to get a certificate. I never finished History, or Writing." She said I ought to come nonetheless, and she was writing down who came because after the ceremony they'd all be going out to eat at some restaurant somewhere, with the mekhanekhs and all the kids. "So let me get this straight! A year and a half ago I was supposed to not get a Te'udat Bagrut, and you guys are requiring me to come not get a Te'udat Bagrut at some ceremony now?!" She didn't take the hint, and kept asking if I'd be coming, so they'd know whether to get a spot for me at the.. "No. No. No, I'm not coming."

I threw out the letter. I wouldn't know her number again now, if I changed my mind. It was on that piece of paper.

But I didn't want to deal with this.

"What's the deal with Lex Luthor?", Tamir asked me on Shabbat.

"Well, he's a genius, and he's always saying that if Superman weren't around to get in his way, he could turn the world into a utopia. But now there's that weekly comic I told you about before, 52, and it shows what Lex Luthor does with a whole year where Superman isn't there. And he seems to be working on something, giving people superpowers. But then it turns out to all be part of his evil plan, and his goal..."

It was at this point that I started cracking up, and explained that this was so ridiculously silly that I could barely say it.

"..the goal he has, the goal of this big evil plan... is to rename the Earth to 'Planet Lexor'. 'Lexor'! And this is what he does when Superman's gone. So after that, I don't have any respect for the character anymore. The deal with Lex Luthor is, he's really stupid."

Back in the eleventh grade, I came up with a creative idea. The solution I wanted to see, to the problems I didn't. I needed to create a game. That was something no one else there knew anything about, but many of them respected computer games. And even those who didn't- this idea, an idea which I'd pull off all on my own -an artistic masterpiece that would appeal even to the dancers -Through the Wind- this game they'd respect. And I could show even the tiniest bits of it, just enough to see the artistic intent -the rest I'd do the next year- those tiny bits would be enough to gain their respect. I'd be an outsider, but that's not really the same issue at all, is it?

Did I ever tell you the story of my career as a gamist? It ended with a program with a picture of a rotating elephant. That was the peak of my success. And then I stopped. And I'm not even supposed to admit that I shouldn't have stopped, because then I'd be splitting my words from my actions and that can't be respected! But I stopped there! When I aimed my sights lower, I didn't even reach that! I wasn't able to achieve to my satisfaction even the lowest goal I set for myself! And Through the Wind? That was my project for tomorrow, and "tomorrow" kept seeming so much later than it did yesterday! And in the day, what had I accomplished? I'd done nothing worthy of respect! Sure, I'm an outsider! But I'm an outsider who can't be respected! I'm an outsider who doesn't exist for anyone who sees me! I never knew those kids, but me? There was nothing here to know! I never made my game, and every time I saw those faces I was reminded that tomorrow hadn't come!

But that was okay. It was school, getting in the way. I kept trying to find time to work, but the vacations were too short to do anything in. And on schooldays, I was so preoccupied with my misery that I needed to spend the rest of my time reading comics and entertaining myself. Don't you see?, it was school, holding me back. I would have gained their respect, if not for school.

Now it's a year and a half later. I've been free. For a year and a half. And what progress have I made?

If I saw those kids, -no, they're not kids anymore. If I saw those people, I'd see where they've gotten to. Some of them are in the army, I'm sure, or taking more education, or working hard at boring jobs for the money. -none of those options are for me, of course- I'm an outsider, I can't take their paths.

But each of those people.. When people ask them what they're doing with their lives... they've got an answer.

When they're asked where they're going - they have an answer!

When asked for plans- they have an answer!

And when they ask themselves- THEY HAVE AN ANSWER!!

And when they look at where they're standing, they're satisfied, because they've been told that there's value in that place! And they can tell themselves that there's value in that place, because they see how far they've come!

And they can respect themselves for it.



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