By Liat Clark
I think a lot about beginnings and endings. The semester has barely been over for a week and we begin again in no time. I’ve waited between meat and milk longer than this winter break! But I’m keeping busy, visiting my grandparents in Florida, and then participating in a Habitat for Humanity mission with Bnei Akiva. I’m lucky that my grandparents chose to retire to a place that’s sunny and 75 degrees in the winter, but I would visit them on my breaks even if they were leaving in the North Pole, because time with them is precious. Time with them teaches me of my history, my back story, in order to help me understand why I do what I do and why I am how I am. I am their legacy, and they are my origins.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that I love books. 📚My grandmother is a great lover of literature, always raving about her latest read, while my grandfather has published a few books of his own. So as I make my yearly trip down to Florida to visit my snowbird grandparents, I am reminded of the roots of my love affair with literature.
I tag along to my grandmother’s book lecture, to hear from the woman who inspired my passion with her own. She is immersed in the research of the novel and its history, the exploration of its themes and motifs, and the revelation/exposition of its messages for the reader. I sit enraptured by her energetic presentation, this woman who teaches to the room of Sisterhood women and has been teaching my family since day one. She critiques the book for its one-dimensional characters, and I wonder if their lack of substance and depth is due to their lack of history, of backstory, to explain why they do what they do and why they are how they are. She speaks of the power of art to ennoble the experiencer of its transcendence, its invitation to the audience to establish permanence in response to ephemeral beauty, and she looks at me meaningfully. I know that I am her permanence, her stamp on the world after she’s gone. Her story is my back story, she holds the key to my history, and time with her unlocks the doors to the past and future. My grandparents tell me about our family tree over dinner, explain the branches of our extended relatives as we walk on the boardwalk, and relate childhood memories during car rides and supermarket runs. I absorb the information greedily, and consider myself lucky to be rooted to such a close-knit, diverse, and loving family.
It’s day one on the Habitat job site and I glance. at the blank slab of ground that will one day host a house.🏡 This square patch of dirt is the beginning of a home, and I have the privilege to be a part in its creation. I have not started it, nor will I finish it; I am just a point on its storyline.
I close my eyes and imagine the house that will stand in this place, sprouting tall and proud from the foundation I pour. This house will be some family’s new beginning. My eyes pop open and I glance around at the 20 other college students I’ve just met. As I move dirt to create the house’s foundation, I am simultaneously setting the foundation of new relationships, new experiences, and a new me. Yet, this new me isn’t really ‘new;’ it’s more like the oxymoronic “new and improved.” This version is just a blip on the timeline of ‘me’s, both an ending and beginning.
I am back in school,🚌 relaxing in my dorm room after a hectic first day of the semester. Today was an ending and a beginning, as all things are. I am continuing where I left off two weeks ago, and yet things have changed. Class subjects have switched, and the energy is different. Both wistful for the vacation that was and hopeful for the semester to be, I begin and end again.