Who the eff is I?
Please watch this video before reading: http://vimeo.com/49837592. (Note: The creator of the video decided to make the film private, and it is no longer accessible. But please watch the trailer for the film, read the post anyway, and continue reading whotheeffisjeff!)
I have nothing profound to say, no extended musings on metaphysics, religion, politics, or education. I just finished watching “The Rabbi’s Daughter” and all I feel is my brute, utter self. A rabbi’s daughter I am not, and yet the film cuts deeper than religion, orthodoxy, and gender. It penetrates the tough exterior of designation and artifice, down to, as Tamar Aviner says with stark clarity, essential feeling.
Identity is a lie. Well, not a lie. A diversion. A regrettable necessity. Am I who I say I am? Am I what I think I am? Who you think I am? What God thinks I am? Does God think? Do people think about me? Think. Think. Think.
Stop thinking about feeling.
“Feel” is only a word.
And as I reflect on my relationship with religion, I suddenly realize that Judaism is something I do, like charity or laundry, not something I am. I do it because my brain conceptualizes religion as the “good” in the most abstract of senses. But what I truly am is only me, stripped of all the layers of paint accumulated over years of education and friendships and experiences and change. Not raw anatomy, but raw emotion. Vivid awareness of self. Because when we leave our friends, close the prayer books, and shut the lights, we cry. These are not tears of existential angst, a bad day, or physical suffering. These are not tears of abstraction. We cry away the paint, layer after layer, until we feel ourselves as we truly are, like nobody else can.
Modes of expression cannot capture the feeling. Modes of expression are just so much paint. You can’t “talk it out,” see a doctor, busy yourself with distractions and diversions. The feeling is utter Solitude. Despair. Regret. Yesterday I wore a mask, but tonight I am free, alone in my freedom, unmasked and real. Tomorrow will be like tonight. The blinding light of my personality will shine through the holes in my façade, and I will stand naked before you, free of shame.
But tomorrow will be the same. I will get out of bed and relate. To the floor. To the wall. To the ceiling. To my friends and family and work and mind and religion and politics and education. And I will go to bed, shut my eyes, regret, despair, and cry. And I will promise that tomorrow will be like tonight.
The loneliness isn’t lofty, not a cry for meaning, for teleological certitude. It’s an essential, visceral, personal truth. We are not who we think we are. We are not who we feel we are. We are who we are. And you will never know.
I am writing this piece without the help of a thesaurus. Even the honest writer, ever systematic in his composition of prose, betrays deceit in his five-syllable words and convenient rhymes. No thesaurus can plumb the depths of language to capture the meaning of my tears. No thesaurus, no friend, no family, no mind. Pure, unadulterated self.
That’s what “The Rabbi’s Daughter” is all about.