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Embracing Authenticity 

Through this blog, I invite you to challenge assumptions, surface truths, and talk about how we get from there to here. In some ways, it will resonate. In other ways, it might not. Either way, there’s enough room for all of us and our stories.

This Version of Myself

I had an unexpected conversation with my 15-year-old the other night. Actually, it wasn’t as much of a conversation as it was a 1am drive by. I was in my bed, scrolling through maudlin YouTube clips of The Shawshank Redemption because 1am on a Wednesday night is definitely when you want to relive past cinematic traumas. Anyway, my son barged into my room, not concerned with Morgan Freeman’s advice to “get busy living or get busy dying,” did a standing somersault into my bed, as he does, and made an announcement which I think was meant as much for him as it was for me. “I like this version of myself,” he said.

With the exception of the glow from my screen, the room was dark, but I could still see the epiphany in his eyes, so I asked him to tell me more.

He explained that recently, for the first time in his life, he has started studying and doing homework. He’s in 10th grade, so while this was nice to hear, the question of what exactly he’s been doing up until now was not lost on me, but I digress. I didn’t want to mess with his flow, so I kept my mouth shut and listened. He continued by telling me that he has been investing at least 3 hours a night into his schoolwork, but he still has enough time to go to the gym every day, where he is currently shredding, cutting, or bulking. I don’t know what any of those words mean.

On top of that, he continued, he has been able to get to school on time, hang out with his friends, and still watch plenty of TV every day. He’s currently binging Breaking Bad after having just completed his second run-through of Brooklyn 99. I’m not sure how much sleep he gets a night, but given that this exchange was happening just past 1am, and I was still scrolling through my phone, it was clear that I wasn’t in a position to throw stones.

As he rattled off all that he could accomplish between the hours of 5pm-2am, he reiterated his conclusion: he likes this version of himself.

I’m happy for him, my 15-year old boy. It took me a lot longer, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure I’m even there yet, to say anything close to that self-affirming. My kid is in an emotionally healthy place, and while I’m extremely grateful, I’ve also been wondering how he got there. I didn’t think it was an accident, but I wasn’t entirely sure if it suggested anything special about our parenting skills either.

Our lives have seen their fair share of turmoil, and this turbulence has caused all of us, in our own way, to stare into the face of some difficult questions about who we are, what we need, and exactly how worthy we are to get it. The last year and a half has often been defined by seismic gestures of change, but there have also been moments, at least for me, like reaching out to strangers to make new friends, that were, although not obviously as grand, equally as brave.

It’s unlikely, especially when days are made up of deep breaths and motivational self-talks, to see the road I’m on or how far I’ve walked down it. Sometimes, it takes a 15 year old to come into my room at an ungodly hour, just as I’m starting The Crown, Season 5, to remind me that I’m currently living a version of myself that is, indeed, likable. And in many ways, without realizing it, although my son may not always know where he is going, his mother and I are, to quote Boyd Varty, teaching him how to get there. We do that by living authentically and openly communicating that this is the work that we now must do.

Of late, there have been Israeli politicians, American university presidents, and the people who support them that send clear messages about the versions of ourselves that are worthy and unworthy of being liked. They may speak about tolerance, but not a kind that is born out of empathy and understanding. And mostly, they, more than me, are seeking a parade in order to remind the world that their commitments are indefatigable and worthy of the fight. I have been asked to feel “rest assured” that with just a little bit of minimization, I will always have a place.

Maybe it’s true, but that doesn’t allow for enough space for us to teach and model for our children what it means to strive for and ultimately live the versions of themselves that they most like. It is in that iteration that we find the greatest health and joy. Owning our stories means that we know who we are and can soldier forward towards where we need to be. And despite our best efforts to make it so, real life is neither black nor white. So, I will honor the Shabbat and keep it holy. I will eat the food that I’m allowed to eat and refrain from that which I can’t. I will love who I love and will embrace the equanimity and wholeness that comes with that self-acceptance. As a great therapist has often reminded me, we must live in the shades of gray and teach our children to do so as well, for that is the only place we can hope to find the holiest, healthiest versions of ourselves.

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