From OWP: "The Gift"

As a part of our classes for the Oregon Writing Project, we model lessons for one another which we can perform in our own classes for our students during the year. Today (yesterday, technically), one of our excellent lessons, by Teri Daniels, focused on writing memoirs. This piece really surprised me. Teri had us write a list of some formative events during our lives, and thanks to her instruction I avoided some that seemed more important, but were cliches or lacked surprise or conflict. I'm glad she guided me to this one. I had no idea it would have any emotional resonance for me at all, but when I shared it I found I was almost crying in front of these people I've known for four days.

This is dedicated to my mom, as it was written on her birthday.

The Gift

Home movies make legends of seemingly innocuous events. Seeing myself on tape warps the memory, so that I remember myself from the outside as much as from the inside. On the screen, the restaurant’s dark lighting makes my skin look even more pale. I’m opening my birthday gifts, so my head is turned down, my dark hair obscuring my face. I pull the items out of the box one by one. My mother, who is behind the camera, is so excited she can barely contain herself. I part the tissue paper and pull out the first item, a travel journal.

“Okay?” I say.

Then I pull out a small, round piece of fabric. I unfold it. It’s black, circular, and about as big as my hand. It’s slightly domed. Since I’m not a practicing Jew, it takes me a second to recognize a Yarmulke. I still don’t get it.

“Keep going,” Mom says. “There’s something else.”

I pull out a small, thin, blue book. I still don’t get it. I open it and see my own picture. Now the camera is watching me look into a book at myself.

Then I put it all together. On the camera, my head pops up. My mom nearly screams. My dad’s laugh starts out low, then gets higher as he shifts from his joy at the gift to amusement at my response.

Only, this part I can remember without the camera. The shock of the moment, of realizing I’ll be going with my dad on the tour he’s leading to Israel and Greece, fires up a highway in my 33-year-old brain that was paved so deeply in that eleven-year-old’s that it has weathered all the traffic in between.

“I get to go?” I look at Dad. Then Mom. Only she’s holding the camera, so on the screen I’m looking right out and all my wonder is visible, even in the dim light.

“You’re going with me,” Dad says.

I have no idea the trip will change my life, will alter the way I see the world, the way I associate previously compartmentalized pieces of information. Jerusalem will do that; link family and ancestors, war and faith, God and dusty stones, history and emotion. But I haven’t been there yet. I’m eleven, and I just know I’m special. I’m lucky. I’m going.