What am I?

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com

Originally published August, 2009, in International Family Magazine

My friend in college, Debra, asked me, “What are you?”

I did not understand the question.

“What are you? How hard can that be? I’m Jewish, what are you?”

I said I was not religious.

“Neither am I. Just tell me what you are?”

I had not been raised with a religion… in fact; it had not been mentioned, kind of like sushi. I was 25 before I had even heard of sushi.

I asked my parents, “What am I?”

My mom said, “Brooke.” She laughed.

“I know that, but what am I relative to you?”

“Our son.”

“But what religion am I?”

“We don’t know. You haven’t told us.”

“How can I not even know what religion I am?”

“That is a personal choice – you will need to make it yourself. Or not.”

This was frustrating, “Ok, let’s make it simple. How about race? I’m not Black, right?”

My mom said, “I wouldn’t be too sure. There was a lot of fooling around going on. Everyone did it; don’t let them tell you otherwise.”

It was like sparring with a judo master who fades from every thrust.

In total exasperation, I said, “Look, my girlfriend is Jewish, and she wants to know what I am. Let’s start there… I’m not Jewish, right?”

My father became serious, “Do you want me to tell you what I want you to be?”

“Yes.” That would be a start.

“When they come to round up the Jews, I want you to be Jewish.”

__________________________________________________________

My friend in graduate school, Mona Hakim, was born in Bethlehem. When she was young, her family moved to Lebanon to avoid threats against her father’s life. She was going to the American University of Beirut when the civil war started.

She told me that your identity card had your religion printed right on it. Thugs would stop your car, and if you were the wrong religion for that part of town, they would chop your head off and place it on a fence post. Muslims did it. Christians did it.

Some people began blackening out their religion on the ID card. That worked for a while. How could you kill someone if you didn’t know what they were?

It didn’t take long for the thugs to think up an answer. If you were Muslim, and you weren’t proud of it, you deserved to die. Christians felt the same about Christians. They couldn’t agree on much, but they did agree on that one thing… don’t say what you are, and we’ll kill you.

That is when she decided she had to get out of there.

I asked her, “So, what are you?”

She said, “I’m not telling you. I’m through with that shit.”

Turns out, she was Mona – good enough for me.

If you conclude that your problems are caused by members of another group, you had better make sure you are not one of them.

If those others are humans, then you are either one of them, or you are inhuman.

Rejection

208641140_a9a7f6da5b_b© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published as Borders in International Family Magazine
Republished in Folks Magazine on 9/12/09.

Dennis and I had never been to Canada.

So, in February of 1971 we decided to hitchhike from Terre Haute, Indiana to Toronto by way of Detroit. A kindly gentleman in a pick-up truck offered to take us over the bridge to Windsor, on the Canadian side of the border.

He said, “If you are dodging the draft, don’t tell me, but I’m willing to try to get you across.”

At the border, the guards asked him who we were. “Just friends.”

We would have made it had our backpacks not been spotted in the bed of the pick-up. The three of us were interrogated in separate rooms. It was clear our driver knew nothing about us. “I’m sorry, but we are going to deny you admission to Canada. You must return to Detroit.” The official sounded quite official.

I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Then I felt guilty; I had just been treated as if I were a criminal. On top of this, I felt tremendous rejection.

Dennis seemed quite cheerful. “Great.” He said, “Would you write me a letter?”

“What?”

“I just want you to write me a letter rejecting me from Canada.”

“We’ve never done that before. I don’t even know what you are asking for.”

“Well,” He paused, “Since Junior High, I’ve been writing short stories and submitting them to literary magazines. I have not yet had a story accepted, but I have quite a collection of rejection letters from some of the world’s finest publications. However, this is the first time I’ve ever been rejected from an entire country. Would you write me a letter?”

The fellow laughed. “Why not?”

“Great. I’ll tell you what to say.”

——————————-

Dear Mr. ##########

Thank you so much for your submission to Canada. Unfortunately your offering does not meet our needs at this time.

We wish you the best in your endeavours.

Regards,

Canada

P. S. God Save the Queen

————————————

That night we managed to hitch to Oberlin, Ohio and spend the night in a house full of young co-eds. That was fun.

The next day we attempted to enter Canada for a second time, from Buffalo. The border guard spotted us immediately. A telex had been sent from Windsor describing two whackos.

As he pulled us out of the car, the guard said, “I suppose you’ll want another rejection letter.”

If you are going to go far, you’ll need to deal with lots of rejection. Start a collection.

The Magical Power of Imagination

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

As an undergraduate I went on a date to see a famous “mentalist”. I find magicians entertaining. My date was eager to show me proof of the supernatural. I was entertained and she found her evidence.

His first feat was to control the minds of two volunteers. He had asked the promoters to provide a selection of decks of cards. Two volunteers each chose a deck and shuffled them. The volunteers sat at desks a few feet apart, each with a face-down deck.

The mentalist then remembered that the effect was difficult if the decks contained any jokers so he quickly removed them.

Each volunteer was asked to cut the deck about a third of the way into the pack and turn those cards over, placing them face up on top of the rest of the deck. Then they were to repeat the process, cutting past the face-up cards and turn them over again.

Finally, he used his mind to command the volunteers to remove the face-up cards so as to find the first face-down card.

Amazingly, they both had found the eight of clubs.

“See,” said she.

“I see,” said I.

He asked the audience to think of a number between one and one hundred, both digits odd but not the same. For example, 15 and 91 would be OK but 55 was not. We all thought of a number.

“I can sense many of you are thinking of 37… or perhaps 73. Raise your hand if I am right?”

Many hands went up. Not all, but certainly more than one percent.

She was thinking of 37.  I was thinking of 88. She was much better than me at following instructions..

“Do the math,” she said.

“I have,” I said.

I left amused. She left with a renewed faith.

While in graduate school I saw an act called the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society featuring two magicians who would later work together as Penn and Teller. They claimed to be no more than entertainers. They were very entertaining.

In 2005, thirty years after first seeing him on stage, I heard Penn Jillette’s essay on National Public Radio entitled “There is no God.”

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5015557

Like many people, he and I believe there is no God.

But I do believe in providence even though one definition is: “a manifestation of God’s foresightful care for his creatures.”

In high school, I imagined I would find something in college that would excite my passions. Three years later I did.

I imagined I could make a living at it, and for thirty years I have.

I imagined I would find a woman to love and ten years later I did.

We imagined having wonderful children and we have.

I imagined writing stories for them and I have.

I imagined that someone would be interested in publishing some of those stories and at Sea-Tac airport I met Catherine Wayland and she did. Here they are.

If you imagine that there is a foresightful God looking out for you, you will find ample evidence that there is. Even if there isn’t.

You don’t need to believe in God to trust in providence.