By Michelle Naim
“In a world inhabited by over 70 billion people, different is the new normal,” writes Emma Davidson in her Huffington post article titled “What is Normal”?
“Stop trying to be so different.”
“Why are you making your life more difficult than it has to be.”
“Just do what you’re told, take the easiest route, and move on.”
“You’re not special.”
“You’re not great.”
“You’re just a normal girl.”
I’ve been told these things before—by many people. The worst part of it is that I believed them sometimes.
But, I am not normal. Not by any definition of the word. Neither are you. Neither are your parents. Neither is anyone.
Let me tell you all the reasons that I’m not normal. I’m a featherweight female martial artist, I chose to lead a religious lifestyle—it wasn’t handed to me, I have a total of four jobs (some weeks I have more), I’m Persian, I’m an English Journalism major, I’m a full-time student, I volunteer during my spare time, I am fluent in a language my parents don’t know how to speak or read, I am the oldest and only daughter, I have made it one of my life’s missions to guide teenagers in their religious and spiritual lives, I go to a university thousands of miles away from my family, and the first time I ever saw snow fall from the sky was three weeks ago. If that’s not normal, my parents fled from a country that was trying to systematically kill them. But here I am, in a beautiful newly renovated apartment in the heart of New York City, drinking orange juice from a carton, and typing away on my Macbook Air. I still hear those voices in my head though. “Stop trying to be different.” “You don’t have to be extraordinary.” “You’re not different.”
The struggle of remaining abnormal always makes me think twice, and sometimes I wonder if the decisions and sacrifices I have made are, and will be, worth it. Sometimes I come home at night and think that people are right; my life would be so much easier if I had stayed in Los Angeles, never came to Stern, and joined in on weekly JLIC shiurim. Sometimes I really wonder if it’s worth it, because my life is not easier here. I didn’t come to New York City to have an easier life, however, I came here to have a better one. And even if that means that I have personal hardships day in and day out, I still take time to think about what I want.
There’s a saying in Farsi that my mother tells me every time I get back on an airplane to return to New York: “Behar koja ke ravi aseman hamin rang ast” — “the sky is the same color wherever you go.” My response to that: your experiences, however, are not. The opportunities that I have in New York, and specifically at Stern, are not the same experiences I would have elsewhere. I think this is the first year that I am okay proclaiming that I am not normal.
My parents and friends aren’t normal either. They’re weird, and crazy, and have big dreams. One of my closest friends is a petite little twenty-year-old girl from Los Angeles who moved to Israel with the minimal ability to speak Hebrew. Her vocabulary was limited to only a few necessary survival terms, such as “Can I have shwarma?” and “Where is the bus?” She struggled day in and day out in a two-year paramedic course, which she finished about a month ago. She is now an Olah Chadasha (new immigrant), a female paramedic, and number one on the list of coolest people I know. She is not normal.
My father isn’t normal either. He moved to America when he was only thirteen years old. He lived with his cousins, started high school barely knowing any English, and graduated college with a degree in business. I don’t think he ever thought his daughter would be where I am today. Another example of an abnormal human being raising a very different abnormal human being.
People are fascinating. Everyone seems to be at a different place in his or her life and I’ve always been fascinated by that process. In the end, all I know is that there’s no one besides for your abnormal self being your abnormal self in this dark scary world we live in. So every day, I hope you wake up and say “Modeh Ani Lefanecha, Melech Chai Vekayam, Shehechezarta bi nishmati…” Thank you, God, for returning my soul to me. MY soul—my battered, weird, crazy, abnormal, soul.