10-minute writing exercise from my last writing class of the semester, prompt: "A time when a possibility opened to you through art (or music, dance, etc.)."
For the past 20 years I had seen them only at funerals--six in the last seven years, in fact--but my niece M. remained a stranger. I remember her as a scowling, angry child who didn't want me to play with her toys when we went to her parents' house--my much old brother and his wife--every other Sunday afternoon.
We sat in the restaurant, M. and I and a collection of cousins, eating pasta and marveling at how happy we were to discover that we really did like each other after so many years apart.
"Were you like sisters when you were kids?" asked R., recent girlfriend of L. I froze. I had no idea how to answer in a way that a newcomer to our complicated family constellation would understand.
"Well..." I began.
"Her father and mine didn't talk for a long time," M. interrupted before I could go any further. "You know, I think it was our fault. You were the prodigy and I was the black sheep... They argued about us all the time." She looked me squarely in the eye, blaming me, without words, for her years of estrangement.
But it wasn't my fault! I wanted to scream. I was just a kid. I smiled instead. "Well, maybe. Hey, how about this dessert?" I tuned around and stabbed a piece of R.'s pie with my fork.
Finally, after we all hugged and kissed goodbye and vowed to stay in touch, I walked down the block and tried to pick up my heart. It remained, mixed with tears, on the concrete beneath my feet. I walked quicker and quicker, and the rhythm of my steps reminded me of Hallel, the prayer of praise I had heard every day that Pesah week. The tune became louder as I reached Grand Central, and I suddenly realized I was speeding down the street as light as I had been weighed down just a minute before. "Betzeit Yisrael, mi Mitzrayim," I sang to myself, "the mountains skip like lambs, the hills like rams." This song of skipping, laughing hope, and not M.'s anger, was my reality, today and any other day I wanted it to be, and nothing could change that.