Are all of us compelled to express ourselves in some way? Do we all have that drive inside us, that passion to tell our story? Is every art a personal expression of passion?
Where do I even begin with this book? I don’t usually read a book so quickly but this one, I just couldn’t put it down. It was tragic and painful to read. I got angry with one character, and then another. Situations and choices pissed me off, and then they were perfectly reasonable. It was life.
I have so many notes about this book. The role of Asher’s mother was one that stuck with me, probably because I am a mother and I can be quite judgmental, unintentionally, but I am aware of my bias, and I try to take it into account and keep my opinions of actual people to myself. It may not seem like it, but I try.
My opinion of her changed over the course of the book. My first thoughts were, “Woman! Really! You have a child to take care of!” as she mourned the loss of her brother to the point of being non-functional. Then, as she stood between her son and her husband, attempting to support both, my heart hurt for her. As wife who loves her husband as much as her children, I can’t imagine the pain she went through trying to support her child (that piece of her heart walking in the world outside her body) as he grew into an adult capable of caring for himself, all the while longing to love and support her husband while he writhed anguish, unable to understand his own son, needing his wife with him.
I couldn’t say that I understood Asher’s passion for his art, until I started thinking about why I write here and what it would be like to be brave enough to say what I really want to say in clear and well-defined terms, with nothing to hide behind. I want to. I yearn to, but I know I may hurt the people I love most, so I don’t. I spend my time skirting around the edges instead and a part of me continues to fade away into the background.
Asher had something to say with his art and Jacob Kahn, his mentor, knew where it would ultimately take him. He tried to warn him. I think Asher did understand and went there of his own initiative. How could he not? His father and grandfather followed their passion to rescue their people and build new schools. His mother and her brother followed theirs to understand and explain the Russian language, culture, and politics. They, in their own way, hurt some people to do what they believed they had to do. Why would he not do the same?
Sitting here, explaining the story to my son, I thought, the reason people get so angry about what you are saying, doing, or pursuing, is because they wish you to be what they believe you should be. Your parents want you to be this. Your community wants you to be that. Even your children have an opinion as to how they want you to be. They all think they know what’s best for you, but they don’t. It isn’t malicious or mean, it’s just human nature. We all believe our point of view is the one the world should share. We want safety and security for ourselves and the people around us. Chaos is a bitch. Stay in line!
But we all see things differently. We all have different perspectives and needs. It reminds me of the Secular Buddhism podcast I listened to recently, about the six blind men describing an elephant from what they feel with their hands. They’ll fight to the death over what they believe is the whole truth. The reality is that we can’t know other people’s reality or how the future will play out for any of us. The best we can do is be flexible and lovingly supportive of the people around us and let go of expectations.
I read some great articles at Wheaton College’s website but this is definitely one of those times when I wish I could sit with a group of people that have read this and hear their insight.
If you’d like to read my initial thoughts about this book, go back to My Name is Asher Lev: A New Read and take a look. I’d love to hear your thoughts!