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a southern yankee abroad

A Meeting in the Desert

“I cared for you in the wilderness, In the land of drought.” Hosea 13:5

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Dirty and relaxed from the Dead Sea, NYU Law iTrek spent Sunday night getting even dirtier at a Bedouin campsite in the Judean desert. Deserts are mystical places, and I had been looking forward to this part of the trip in particular.

Area where they found the Dead Sea scrolls!

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We arrived after a bumpy ride from the Dead Sea and settled into our tent (all ~45 us slept under the same “roof”!) before enjoying a delicious traditional Bedouin meal. Following the meal, we gathered around a fire in the hospitality tent and enjoyed Arabic coffee while learning more about Bedouin culture.


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Then, a group of us left the campsite and set off into the emptiness under the full moon for a period of meditation. After gathering in a circle, each of us set off to our own spot in the desert. I found a nice flat rock to use as a pillow and leaned back to gaze at the stars, allowing my mind to completely open up. I picked up a small stone to hold in my hand as I reached out to God and connected with my surroundings. As I laid in the very desert where Jesus was tempted for 40 days and nights, and where Moses and his people wandered for 40 years, I couldn’t help but feel small, undeserving, and immensely grateful for the opportunities and lessons of the past year. I thought about my own wandering and temptation. I found myself thinking and praying, until I heard Doron call us back together into a larger circle.

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The rest of the night back at camp involved wine, a bonfire, s’mores, spontaneous singing around the campfire, and deep conversations. No wifi, just each other. I ended up finally going to bed around 4am.

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We all woke up a few hours later for an early morning camel ride through the desert–tracing back over the spot where I had meditated the night before. I had accidentally ridden a camel the day before at the Dead Sea (I was just supposed to be taking a picture, but the camel started standing up all of the sudden)! My second camel ride ever went a bit more smoothly. Mahmoud, my camel, was a joy to start the day with!

Me with Mahmoud ❤️



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After our camel ride, we left for Masada, where we spent the morning hiking and learning about its history from Doron. Masada is a fortress that overlooks the Dead Sea, and Herod built a few palaces for himself atop the fortification. The Romans sieged Masada in 73 AD. Faced with violent defeat, 960 Jewish men, women, and children committed mass suicide within the walls of Masada to avoid a cruel future at the hands of the invaders.




Masada has become a symbol of unity for the Zionist movement and the nation of Israel in the last few centuries, and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2001. “Masada shall not fall again” has become a mantra used by the Israeli army. Besides viewing the ruins and learning the history, we were able to soak in stunning views of the Dead Sea and the hills of Jordan in the horizon. A rabbi also works diligently and continually to transcribe the Torah at the site.

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Masada is extremely steep, and we planned to take the cable car back down after climbing up the Roman ramp. However, the cable car was broken! We set off down the snake path under a scorching sun, finally reaching the bus after the equivalent of 52 flights of stairs. My legs are still sore!

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The mystery of the Judean desert provided more than I could have thought to ask for. As one friend shared after our meditation, our existence is highly improbable (from a scientific perspective) and highly miraculous (from a spiritual perspective). You are the only you that will ever exist, and I am the only me that will ever exist. The rich emptiness and expanse of the desert provided the perfect backdrop to allow these realizations to reverberate and settle.

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One unexpected blessing of this trip has been getting to know fellow NYU and Israeli law students. At school back in New York, it’s often difficult to get to know others on a deeper level. But that has been a constant theme of this trip, and I feel it was also one of many of the desert’s surprises.

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Up next… Jerusalem.


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A Land of War and Miracles

Knowing the next day would take us along the Sea of Galilee, down the Jordan, and to the Dead Sea, I spent Saturday night in the kibbutz brushing up on some New Testament geography and catching up on much needed sleep.

The next morning, we loaded up our bus at 645am and set off to Merom Golan. Here, we met up with Miri Eisen, a retired colonel in the Israeli army and security expert. We loaded up a fleet of ATVs and set off toward the Syrian border.


Our ride took us even closer to the Syrian border, and at one point we were within “field goal distance” (American football term… about 30 yards) of the fence separating Israel and Syria. At this point, we had reached the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries. We parked our ATVs at a bombed abandoned hospital and climbed to the roof, where we looked out across Syria and listened to Miri’s talk on Israeli border security and the current Syrian civil war.




Syria and Israel have been in a state of war since Israel’s independence in 1948. In 1967, Israel claimed the Golan Heights and established the current DMZ where we now stood, just yards away from Syria. The UN has a monitoring station located right at the border on the Israeli side, and its mandate is renewed by both Israel and Syria every 6 months at the UN.


Although Syria is still represented by the Assad regime at the UN, the land within our eyesight is now controlled by Syrian Al-Qaeda, just one of the many factions fighting for control in the Syrian civil war. Miri said sometimes the fighting is audible from the point where we stood on the abandoned Israeli hospital. While Israel accepts no refugees, they give free medical care (no questions asked) to anyone presenting themselves at the border. Miri says Israel has provided about 3,000 Syrian soldiers with medical care in the last decade– the vast majority being young men between the ages of 18 and 25.

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After this sobering visit, we loaded our bus and continued on to the ancient city of Capernaum.


Doron (our amazing guide) told us this city, located on the Sea of Galilee, is known as Jesus’ headquarters, and is the location for many of the Bible’s best known miracles– walking on water, healing, multiplying the fish and loaves, and calming the storm. The ruins of a synagogue from the 5th century are located at the spot where the synagogue stood in Jesus’ time, and you can see some of the very stones where Jesus most likely walked when he visited this synagogue and performed the healing of the crippled man.

These stones are believed to be the remains of the synagogue Jesus frequented in Capernaum.

Capernaum also houses the traditional location of Peter’s house, which has had two churches constructed around it in the ensuing centuries. You can still see the ruins of his alleged house (below).



As I placed my feet in the very waters of the sea where Jesus performed several of his miracles, I felt a deep sense of wonder, peace, and gratitude.


We also enjoyed skipping stones on the sea (which is really the size of a lake!) as well as taking in the undisturbed, undeveloped views surrounding us.



After having lunch nearby (the food here is amazing… hummus at every meal!), we continued on through Tiberius and south along the Jordan to the Dead Sea.

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The Dead Sea was hazy, salty, and wonderful. Everything I had ever heard about it was true… you really do float without even trying! I think the unexpected surprise was the full body mud treatment we all got for free. My skin felt so soft afterward, and I wish I could bottle up some of the mud and take it with me! I guess if I want a similar experience back in NYC, I can go to a spa and spend $100+…haha.


Today has been full of amazement after walking the very same streets and shores that Jesus walked, but also full of heartbreak and sadness after seeing the devastation of perpetual war and death along the Syrian border.

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Israel is a land of a special kind of complexity, and always has been–and that’s an understatement. There are and will continue to be more questions than answers.

Sea of Galilee

John 21:1-9: “Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning,  Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.”

Shalom Y’all! 

Greetings from Israel! After 13 hours of flying, I arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday just before midnight and made my way through security. Since I arrived a night before the rest of the NYU group, I had booked a night at the Beachfront Hostel–located right on the beach with an amazing rooftop patio. The next day was full of exploring, laying on the beach, and meeting up with the iTrek group from NYU at our hotel, also located on the beach.

ITrek is a program that sponsors trips for law students to visit Israel and become informed about the many complex issues that face the country and region first-hand. I am fortunate enough to be traveling with NYU’s iTrek over my spring break. Our group has 42 students across the JD and LLM program at NYU Law, many from other countries including the USA, China, Chile, Mexico, India, and of course Ireland!

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After a late night exploring the bars and beaches in Tel Aviv, we woke up bright and early for our first group meeting at the hotel with Tal Schneider, a political journalist covering Israeli and US politics. Tal explained the complexities of domestic Israeli politics, and discussed how Trump’s unclarity regarding his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may play out in the current global political climate. You can read Tal’s work at Huffington Post and Haaretz, and also here.

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Following the talk, we rode down to Old Jaffa, where our guide Doron explained the long, complicated, and detailed history of the land we now call Israel. Old Jaffa is a 4000-year-old town that was swallowed up by the sprawling urban mass of Tel Aviv in 1950. We visited the church at the place where Peter is reported to have had a vision, and we were able to stay for a few minutes of mass. We then explored the market and seaport, before getting on our bus to Nazareth.




Nazareth is located in the northern part of Israel, and is famous for being Jesus’ hometown! It is majority Muslim, and is very modern (complete with an H&M and Zara). We had lunch before visiting the Church of the Anunciation, located at the place where Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would be the mother of Jesus.

Nazareth is a majority Muslim town that draws a significant amount of Christian tourists

The church has different artistic depictions of Mary given from countries around the world to honor her role in the Christian faith.

Depiction of the Virgin Mary from the USA


The church has preserved the very spot where tradition holds the angel visited Mary (below), and visitors are able to file past.


After leaving Nazareth, we stopped at a beautiful lookout point just outside the city, where we soaked in views of Nazareth and the surrounding agriculture. We also were able to see Mt. Tabor, the traditionally held location of Jesus’ transfiguration.


Behind me is Mt. Tabor, the site believed to be where the transfiguration of Jesus occurred

We then drove further north to the Golan Heights region, which was part of Syria until Israel took control during the 1967 war. We stopped for dinner and a wine tasting at Assaf Winery, where we had 6 different wines paired with what seemed like endless courses of food. Golan Heights is like the Napa Valley of Israel, and the Assaf winery is family owned and operated. They were extremely hospitable hosts. I bought a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon to enjoy later on the trip!

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After a delicious dinner and wine-tasting, we continued even further into the Golan Heights to our accommodations for the night–Kibbutz Ein Zivan. I’d always associated the “kibbutz” with a type of utopian hippie commune, and apparently they were collective communities of this sort until the 1970s. Now, kibbutzim is still a part of the Israeli national identity, but they have been privatized and function as vacation getaways. Our kibbutz was cozy, clean, comfortable, and without wifi– a very utopian hippie experience indeed!

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Only 2 days into Israel, and we’ve already done so much! Up next… the Syrian border, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea.
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(A special thank you to my co-author Jack, who is bringing the luck of the Irish to the blog on this trip!)

En Route to Israel- A Playlist and A Reading List

It’s that time again! Tonight, I’m flying out of JFK to Kiev, Ukraine, where I connect with a flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. Happy Spring Break, y’all!

The last two weeks have been the busiest so far of law school, so I am more than ready to get on the plane and get some sleep (I find long-haul flights to be relaxing in a strange way). Total travel time will be 10 hours to Kiev, and 3 to Tel Aviv.

The last time I crossed the Atlantic, I was returning to NYC after backpacking in Europe for 7 weeks this past summer. It feels like years ago.

I am so happy to be traveling again (as always), and also to keep myself occupied with some fun, non-school-related reading on this trip! (Ok, I did print a few class things to read along the way).

Reading: Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

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I started this last week and plan to finish it on the way. The story is set in Turkey and France during WW2, and follows the struggle of a Jewish Turkish family living in Marseilles during the German occupation as they attempt to escape to safety, as well as the work of Turkish diplomats to protect their nationals across Europe as war breaks out. It’s been a really good fiction read so far.

Other reading: Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York

The Education of Dixie Dupree (Donna Everhart)

Press Freedom in Africa: Comparative perspectives

The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Rashid Khalidi)

Israel: A History (Anita Shapira)

 

Listening: Pod Save the World / Pod Save America

I am obsessed with these podcasts! I’ve downloaded the most recent ones, as well as the very earliest ones to catch up on this trip. I highly recommend today’s “Of Russia With Love” on Pod Save the World- an interview with former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. It does a really good job of  explaining the Russia situation by breaking down the Obama restart, analyzing the return and rise of Putin, and discussing if and how Trump really changes anything.

 

Jamming: Current Travel Playlist

As always, a travel playlist for the long trip is so necessary.

  • I Don’t Care About You – Lake Street Drive
  • Heart in a Cage – Chris Thile
  • Back to the Island – Leon Russell
  • Bushwick Blues – Delta Spirit
  • Art Isn’t Real (City of Sin) – Deer Tick
  • Texas & Tennessee – Lucero
  • Mississippi – Bob Dylan
  • 24 Frames – Jason Isbell
  • Into the Mystic – Van Morrison
  • FourFiveSeconds – Jaime Wyatt version
  • Wildflowers – Dolly Parton
  • Silver Lining – Carl Anderson
  • The Funeral – Band of Horses
  • In Bloom – Sturgill Simpson
  • Hotel California – Eagles
  • Beast of Burden – Rolling Stones
  • O-h-h Child – Nina Simone
  • Fake Love – Drake
  • Bad and Boujee – Migos
  • Black Beatles – Rae Sremmurd
  • Night Moves – Bob Seger
  • Rainy Day Women – Bob Dylan
  • Guttersnipe – Bhi Bhiman
  • My Church – Maren Morris
  • Lovin in my Baby’s Eyes – Leftover Salmon
  • Water Under the Bridge – Adele
  • Everything’s Gonna Be Undone – Band of Horses
  • I’m Amazed – My Morning Jacket
  • Stars Fell on Alabama – Tara Nevins
  • Traveling Alone – Tift Merritt
  • Vice – Miranda Lambert
  • Waves – Miguel + Kacey Musgraves remix
  • Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan
  • I’ve Got Wheels – Miranda Lambert
  • Vienna – Billy Joel
  • Africa – Toto
  • The General – Dispatch

 

Next stop…Kiev!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop…Israel!

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I can’t believe I am leaving 1 week from tomorrow for a 9 day trip through Israel! I have always dreamed of visiting this land–the birthplace of 3 major world religions and a cradle of ancient civilization. Every Sunday for the first 18 years of life, I learned something about Israel. I can’t wait to see it in person.

I will be meeting up with a group of (awesome) fellow law students from NYU, and we will be spending the week visiting sites with religious, historical, and political significance. I am so excited for this opportunity…I have always felt drawn to visit this country for its spiritual and historic significance, and the trip is just around the corner!

What to pack? I am having a bit of trouble as I am starting my list. We will be doing a little bit of everything—visiting the Old City of Jerusalem (including the Wailing Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Mount of Olives/Garden of Gethsemane, and Via Dolorosa-the road where Christ carried the cross), Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, meeting a Justice at the Israeli Supreme Court, hiking Masada, camping in a bedouin tent, 4-wheeling in the Golan Heights, floating in the Dead Sea, getting some sun on the beaches of Tel Aviv, and meeting with various cultural representatives and law firms. We are also arriving during Purim, which is supposed to be very fun (it is the equivalent of Jewish Mardi Gras!) Sadly, I think I am going to have to leave my backpack behind and take my suitcase instead for this trip.

So far, I think this is what I am going to be packing. I am definitely looking for suggestions though, as I have never been and keep seeing mixed weather reports for Israel in March on Google! I feel like I am overpacking…but am I leaving anything out!?

-2 bathing suits

-flip flops

-sandals

-sneakers

-1 J Crew shorts

-2 Nike shorts

-1 yoga pants

-1 elephant pants from Thailand

-2 jeans

-1 long sundress

-1 going out dress

-1 pashmina (to cover shoulders in the Old City)

-1 professional dress (for Supreme Court visit)

-2 rompers

-2 tank tops

-3 dressy casual tops

-1 long sleeve top

-3 t-shirts

-1 small purse

-bandana

-baseball cap

-Uniqlo Light Down Jacket

-socks

-underthings

-glasses + sunglasses

-toiletries

-computer/chargers

-Bible

-Kindle/other reading

I already feel this trip will be the most meaningful trip I have ever taken in many ways. I hope I am packing the right things! Maybe I will try to pack it all in my backpack…for sentimental reasons, I don’t want to leave it behind…it has been with me to Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe. We will see if it all fits. The countdown is on, and I can’t wait to be on the road again!

Divine Intervention

Last week, I received the sad news from home that my Grandma Dot had passed away. Even though she had been in poor health for some time, it is never easy to hear news like this. It’s impossible to ever be fully prepared to learn of and internalize the news of the loss of a grandparent. I feel very blessed to have known 3 out of 4 of my grandparents for my first 27 years of life, as I realize so many aren’t able to get to know their grandparents as long as I have. I didn’t have the chance to get to know Grandma Dot as well as my Smith grandparents, but I am very happy for the times we had together here on earth. I was able to visit her in the hospital while I was home for the holidays last month, and I’m so glad we had this time together.

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Dot was born and raised in Tippah County, Mississippi, but also lived in California and Texas at different points in her life. She was a nurse during her professional life, spending her time caring for other people. I will always remember her as kind-hearted, good-humored, and thoughtful. She was the biggest Ole Miss fan I ever knew and will probably ever meet. In fact, one of the last gifts she ever received was a personalized autographed football from Coach Hugh Freeze. She was very proud of it. Grandma Dot was a special lady.

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After I heard the news, I found myself numb from shock, but also kicking into gear to organize my travel back to Mississippi for the services, and to read ahead and tie up loose ends at school before heading out of town. On Friday morning, I left my apartment at sunrise heading to Newark airport. My flight would leave at 10am to Atlanta, and then I would connect to Memphis after a 45 minute layover.

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About 10 minutes before we were set to board, the dreaded announcement came over the intercom—“Delta flight 2343 to Atlanta has been delayed indefinitely due to mechanical problems. We don’t have an estimated new departure time, but when we do, we will let you know.” As we all let out a collective groan, the gate attendant added (for good measure), “It’s not looking good, folks. Sorry. We will try to rebook everyone as soon as possible.”

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The flight to Atlanta was packed full, and 50 or so people immediately swarmed up to the gate counter to get a place in line for rebooking. As my layover was so short, I already knew that I, too, would need to rebook. However, I just didn’t have the emotional energy to push my way through this frenzied crowd, so I sat back in my seat and decided to watch, at least for a minute. Through the hullabaloo, I heard (or imagined I heard) an announcement—“Elizabeth Smith, please report to Gate 44.”

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I didn’t think anything of this. First of all, I have never, ever been paged in an airport, and I fly pretty frequently. And there was no reason I would be being paged right now. Secondly, I feel like Elizabeth Smith is a pretty common name. (Some people are shocked to find out my name is actually Elizabeth Grace, and I just go by Gracie as a type of formalized nickname, I guess. It gets confusing!) Newark is a big airport—I was sure there was another Elizabeth Smith about to miss her flight.

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The shouting, shuffling, and complaining continued at the Atlanta-bound gate, and I stayed seated, watching it all unfold. I was about to call Delta’s customer service line to try to rebook to arrive at a decent hour, when I heard it again. “Elizabeth Smith, please report to Gate 44.”

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Why not? I thought.

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I walked over. “Hi, I am Elizabeth Smith, but probably not who you’re looking for?” I started.

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Without missing a beat, the gate attendant looked directly at me and said, “You’re flying to Memphis, right?”

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“Yeah, I am!” I said, surprised. I looked over my shoulder at the 50 other people still waiting to rebook at the Atlanta gate just a few feet away. I was fortunate to be singled out in the best way possible.

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“Great,” she said. “I’ve already rebooked you on this flight through Cincinnati that will still get you to Memphis this afternoon. We’re about to board now.”

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As someone who has been stranded overnight and/or had to cancel weekend trips due to airline failures on multiple occasions, I was truly surprised and deeply grateful. “Wow, that’s amazing! Thank you so much!”

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She smiled as she printed my new boarding passes.

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Then, half-jokingly, I said, “You’re like my guardian angel!”

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As soon as the words left my mouth, goosebumps covered my arm and my hairs stood on end. I thought of my Grandma Dot. Tears came to my eyes.

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Maybe she wasn’t always physically or logistically able to take care of me here on earth as much as she may have wanted to, but this was Grandma Dot’s way of looking out for me now. I had arrived at the point of emotional exhaustion—the point where you need a grandmother’s hug, and maybe some fresh-baked cookies. And, in a different way, that’s exactly what I got there in the Delta terminal. I felt taken care of and looked after in that moment, and I felt my grandmother’s love. I laughed as I pictured her pulling some strings for me up at the pearly gates, intent on making sure I could arrive and reconnect with our family with the least amount of frustration and exhaustion possible.

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Grandma Dot, thank you. I love you. I hope you are at peace and enjoying good health, and are reunited with many loved ones in a place of joy and happiness. Hotty Toddy.

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Multiple Lives

I read an interesting fact recently—the average lifespan during the Middle Ages was estimated to be around 36 years old, give or take a few years. Today, the average life expectancy for an American female is 78 years, and 76 years for an American male. This means the modern person is living over twice as long as he or she would have lived a thousand years ago. 

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(Of course, there is variance in the so-called average lifespan based on different factors, some as straightforward as genetics or gender, and others rooted in conditions fueled by global and regional socioeconomic inequality. Today, the most obvious impact on disparity in global life expectancy is evident in the effect of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Also, it’s hard to peg just one average number for such a large period of history (“Middle Ages”), but it’s probably a safe claim to say life expectancies have been significantly lower with exceptions throughout most of history as compared to now).

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For the sake of argument, it is safe to say that modern medicine, technology, and sanitation standards have succeeded in achieving the mystical goal of extending a single life to encompass multiple lifespans. To understand the magnitude of this, imagine that a thousand years from now people are living to be 160 years old, on average. That is essentially what has happened to the human race over the last millennium (or really, in the last century or two).

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On a micro level, I have found myself thinking about what this means for our lives, or my life in particular, now that I realize I am living a predicted lifespan that, until recent history, is a length of time that encompasses multiple lifetimes. How many careers can one pursue or justify? Is this why so many people marry more than once over the course of their lives at different points? Do people outgrow or outchange one another? How much of the world is it possible to see, if you entertain the idea our lives are likely to be twice as long on average than they have been historically? How quickly can and do societal values shift and change, given that folks are living longer? How quickly can and do values change in a person who lives long enough to perceive these societal sea changes? How does all of this impact an Earth that is struggling to support us all as we live longer and crowd in, even as people deny that her climate is changing?

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Also consider the fact the pace of the world has picked up substantially given industrialization and technology at the same time life spans have increased. Given this dynamic, how many mini-lives do we begin and end every few years? “Millennials” (if you can stomach that term) are a very accomplished group (according to certain criteria, as we fall far short of being near the level of the Greatest Generation) and “we” are still within the historical lifespan borders. I think about the fact I have completed several years of school, taught high school for 2 years, worked for 3 years in finance, backpacked around the world, and started my law school studies—and I have a few years yet until I turn 30. I am certainly not unique either… I just feel fortunate I was born where and when I was. Most friends of mine and people I know have been fortunate enough to accomplish many of their personal and professional goals while still in their 20s and 30s. And to think we would be in our twilight years now in the Middle Ages…

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I can’t decide if the idea of a long life means we are meant to accomplish more, or if we should strive to go deeper in those things we first set out accomplishing in the first 36 years. And what about the exhaustion factor? Are humans meant to have a shelf life? Will science and technology successfully continue the march toward immortality, and if so, do we really want that? Perhaps the answer is quality over quantity. And then the question becomes how to define quality—do we accomplish more during our years, or accomplish more with our years? 

6 Ways to Show a Little Self-Love

Happy Valentine’s Day / Single’s Awareness Day, blog readers! Today is all about love, although I woke up on this cold, icy NYC morning feeling like death (or at least like I had the flu). Somehow, I managed to make it to class on time despite hitting the snooze button for an hour straight (very unlike me, as I am typically an unapologetic morning person). As the day progressed, I really didn’t think about the fact it was Valentine’s Day at all (despite the fact my sweet mom sent me roses and chocolates yesterday…thanks Mom!) img_2252

However, after I got home and curled up under my electric blanket with a mug of tea, I found myself realizing that it was, in fact, almost the end of Valentine’s Day 2017. So I decided to recognize the holiday with a little reflection on self-love.

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Shout out to my besties…y’all know who y’all are! ❤

Last year was the best year of my life in so many ways, but I feel like it was perhaps only setting me up for the year that is ahead. I am so excited to the point I am almost restless for the next few months. Below I’ve made a “list of love” to share the ways I’ve practiced self-love so far in 2017. It doesn’t matter if you’re coupled or single as a pringle—today is also a day to realize you need to love yourself before you can truly love anyone else.

1- Travel! I feel so, so lucky (more so each day) that I am able to continue my traveling this year. I’ve realized over the adventures of the last few years that travel is my first love. I feel fully alive when I am somewhere I’ve never been before. I started off 2017 with a trip home to the South (which honestly feels like visiting another country sometimes) before spending 10 days in Costa Rica. Next month, I am traveling to Israel with a group from NYU Law. We had our first meeting together last night, and I can’t wait to explore with this group next month!

Then, I will be spending 10 weeks in Uganda over the summer as a human rights fellow through law school. And, I may be doing a 10 day safari in Botswana before I start! I feel so grateful to be able to continue doing what I love in the context of my career, education, and research interests.

It’s good to have a taste for traveling alone.

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A shot from last month in beautiful Mexico City. I can’t wait to be on the road again!

2- Getting off Facebook. I made the split-second decision to deactivate my Facebook account a few weeks ago. As I sat scrolling through my Newsfeed full of political posts, I realized that I missed having control of how I received information. And as much as we try to fight it, I feel like Facebook use is correlated with desensitization, as we tend to lose sight of the fact we are interacting with people, and not a computer screen, as we type out messages and send “likes” across the void. While I feel a deep despair at the state of the nation and world right now, I realized participating in the Facebook feeding frenzy was counter-productive for me. Instead of being on full emotional blast in reaction to what’s going on, I need to sustain a slow burn for the next few years. So, I deactivated Facebook for the first time since I got it 10 years ago. For the last decade, I could never have imagined life without this service that allows me to “keep in touch” with so many people, yet I haven’t missed it once. In fact, my head feels so much clearer now. And I have had a lot more time to read and write (which is maybe a bit embarrassing to admit, as it shows how much time I was really wasting on Facebook!)

3- DailyOm. DailyOm is a website that offers online journaling classes with a variety of focuses. Because I love writing so much (if you can’t tell already!), I decided to give their strategy of “focused journaling” a try through their course entitled “Heal Yourself With Writing.” The course centers on self-discovery and empowerment by writing and remembering the past from various perspectives. The course starts off with a Native American parable about a man who says he feels he has two wolves fighting in his heart—one vengeful and angry, and the other loving and compassionate. The man admits that the wolf who wins will be the wolf that he feeds, and he chooses which one is fed.

I’ve found the approach to remembering, refocusing, and writing to be transformational, and I am just a few weeks in. Whether it’s writing, meditation, or another mechanism, I would encourage everyone to take some time for self-reflection now—especially as the world seems to spiral into chaos around us.

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The new website I have replaced Facebook with!

4- A fresh approach to law school. The first semester of law school really was a blur to me. I hate to admit this, but I feel like I just showed up and went along for the ride when I returned from traveling back in August. I don’t think I got enough out of this education I am investing so dearly in last semester. This semester, I feel not only more focused, but more knowledgeable about what I need to do to get the most out of law school. For me, that means 1-handwriting all notes (no computer!), 2- hitting the library everyday (no more going home early, chilling, and getting distracted!), and 3- briefing all my cases (I didn’t think it was worth it last semester, but I’ve changed my mind).

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A nice snowy day recently at NYU. I feel a lot more grounded and connected to school this semester, and I am happy I get to come here everyday.

5- Be careful who you prioritize. As Maya Angelou once said, “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.” The corollary, I think, would be to be sure to prioritize those people who are important to you so they never have to guess if they are priorities or options. I think this applies to all levels and forms of relationships—friends, family, and dating. For some reason, acting on this lesson of prioritization has become a “priority” for me in the last few months (for lack of a better term!). Not only am I trying to be more discerning about the level of importance I give people in my mind, schedule, and heart, but I am trying to be more intentional in staying connected in certain relationships and establishing firm boundaries in others. After all, if you don’t guard your heart, who will?

6- Take a lot of walks. Those of you who know me well know I used to be adamant about running almost everyday. These days, I like to take walks around Bushwick just about every night. I use this time to think, listen to music, and call friends. There is something about forward motion that’s freeing, no matter what speed you’re going. I surprisingly don’t miss running at all, and that’s ok–there’s a time in life for everything!  I love wandering around, both in big ways (see #1) and small ways (walking around Bushwick). And, it helps me accomplish #5 (staying in touch with friends).

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A pink Bushwick sky

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all! Hope you’re feeling the love, inside and out! Xoxoxo

Day #6 of “American Carnage” 

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Washington Square Park, NYC, January 25, 2017

The U.S. Constitution is bigger than your (unfounded) “fear.” Or so I hope.

Almost a week into Donald Trump’s presidency, I am beginning to realize this is worse than I feared. I was devastated following Trump’s electoral college victory, just like all the other “liberal snowflakes” out there. I randomly cried every day for about a week, and I got out and joined protest marches and rallies twice in the week following the election. Although the pain and fear of Trump’s plans for the U.S. were real, I found myself quietly hoping as I listened to the words so many moderates spoke that week.

“It’s not going to be as bad as everyone thinks.”

“He just said all that stuff to get elected…he’s not serious.”

“Give him a chance before you judge him.”

“He hasn’t even taken office yet, so why is everyone freaking out?”

While I thought his campaign rhetoric (particularly promises to build a giant wall along the Mexican border and ban Muslims and refugees from traveling into the country) was sickening, I found myself praying they were just empty (disgusting) promises made on the campaign trail to garner votes. The words enough were awful, but actions would be even worse. (There’s also the fact people actually voted for this, which I will address later…)

Now, it’s Wednesday, January 25, and Trump has already issued an executive order to boost a “Deportation force” that will tear families apart, and to begin construction on a wall between our country and our neighbor, Mexico. He has censored scientists who were using social media to communicate facts, and has continued to promote the unsubstantiated claim that he lost the popular vote because of voter fraud. His administration is commanding us to “reject the evidence of our eyes and ears” (George Orwell, 1984), and pushing “alternative facts” in its place. He has unilaterally acted to deny healthcare to millions of Americans and deny women’s health services to millions of women. Tomorrow, it is reported he will announce an executive order to ban the entry of Muslims and other refugees in danger of losing their lives into the U.S. It is also reported that he will soon act to withdraw a substantial amount of U.S. support from the United Nations, an international body that came into existence following a horrific world war for the purpose of promoting international cooperation and peace. We haven’t had a world war since.

We are less than a week in, and his actions are “unpresidented.”

I have to admit that I am a fan of executive action when it benefits human beings and the greater good—examples include the Emancipation Proclamation (Lincoln) and DACA (Obama). However, now we are seeing what happens when the wrong person has the power to take executive action. It’s truly horrifying.

I still find myself grappling with the same question I found myself asking in the days immediately following the election—how can people I love and care about condone the beliefs and political platform that embolden actual racist, misogynist xenophobes who are out there? It has only gotten worse. Why can’t America, a nation built by immigrants, live up to the standard set forth by one of our earliest founders and leaders John Winthrop—“We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us”? Why are so many Americans so willing to blame people of a different racial, ethnic, or religious background for our country’s problems? Which came first, the hate or the fear?

During a recent visit to Mexico City, I had the chance to get to know a blond-haired, blue-eyed, collared shirt-wearing Mexican guy (not that any of this is important, but I am trying to paint a picture). This guy often travels to the U.S. for work trips, golf trips, and to visit his sister (who legally resides in New York City). He is aware of how shocked Americans always are to learn he is “Mexican,” and found it humorous, until recently. He nows sees it as evidence of the deeply ingrained racial prejudices and stereotypes held by many. He also finds Trump’s rhetoric deeply offensive and dangerous, and he and others plan to boycott our country because of the pervasive hate that has found its way into our White House.

The bigotry perpetuated by so many Americans, which has found a voice and platform in Trump, is unacceptable. Our country is now being boycotted by other nations because of human rights issues. We need to wake up and stand up.

I’ve also reached an unlikely conclusion in the last few days—Trump is a unifier, but not in the way he purports to be. I have been thinking a lot about the Women’s Marches that took place around the nation and world this past weekend. While I did not participate for personal reasons, I found the pictures of marches that took place everywhere from NYC to Washington DC to Jackson, Mississippi, to Nashville to San Francisco to Paris to Bangkok to Nairobi inspiring and humbling, but also unsettling. Where were WE (white women) during the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests across the nation over the last few years, many of which faced heavily militarized police resistance? Where were we during the recent DAPL protests, and all the subsequent demonstrations against the government’s rape and conquest of Native American land?

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I didn’t take this picture, but it spoke volumes to me

I attended a rally tonight in Washington Square Park to stand in solidarity with Muslims and Latinos in light of the Mexican wall order and impending Muslim travel ban executive order. I looked around, and many of the protesters were white like me. While I am so happy to see unity across race, socioeconomic status, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and ethnic lines, I am still deeply troubled because in a way, some of us are too late. I am humbled and afraid. img_2121

I am trying to maintain faith in our constitutional institutions, but the damage is already done. This bigotry was here long before Trump took office—he just gave it a vehicle and a voice. I take personal responsibility for not acting and speaking sooner in my own personal life. Many people (aka white women) feel threatened for the first times in their lives, and that’s a sign of privilege. So many others have been afraid of losing their hard-won civil rights for a long time. Yet Trump’s policies are still a reason to fight back. I hope the marches on Saturday were just a start. While I disagree with some of the rhetoric coming from the resistance movement (particularly from celebrities), we need to stay vigilant, uncomfortable, and humble. It’s just getting started.

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