Wonder 21


Freshman English: Write an essay explaining why a decision you made was the right one.


Every day we’re faced with decisions. For example: Shall I wear the hat? Joaquin and I think so. A hat is a statement of independent style. When you decide to wear a hat, you’re telling the world: I got a sense of humor. And I know it. And I’m not afraid to let you know it, too. (Plus, minha tia tells me that girls love a guy in a hat.)


When I wear a hat and walk into a café, I can’t help but walk in with attitude. I mean the hat takes up space, man. And so do I.


Ok. Scrap that essay. It’s going nowhere fast. Next…


Recently, I made the decision to join a gym. I think it’s the right decision. Minha mãe reminded me that, in addition to eating healthy, which I’ve always done, a person needs to get plenty of exercise in order to be in optimum health.

Plus, minha tia Berry told me that I looked skinny. That’s enough incentive for any teen boy to want to start pumping iron, right?


Plus, at the gym they’ve got trainers. Now granted, my trainer, with his own skinny chicken arms and his tortoise-shell glasses, and his crazy maroon yoga sweats and his beatnik hippie beard, looks like he should be tutoring me in physics, not pushing me to pump it harder. But still. I picked up a few good pointers.


Ugh. This essay is turning out weird. Next…


I’ve decided to learn Ravel’s Kaddish. Some might think this a strange choice for me, for I’m not Jewish. But then neither was Ravel. Ravel, of Basque origin, held a deep affection for Jewish music and culture, which finds its way into some of his most moving works for violin.

My orchestra teacher told me I was too young to play this piece.

“Who have you lost yet?” he asked me, rhetorically, in his Yiddish accent. “No one! Not a soul! This is not a song for youth! Go play something by Debussy, and come back when you are an old man!”

It’s not true that I have lost no one, for I have lost a grandfather and a grandmother that I have never met. Absence is still a loss, even without presence on the other side.

But a Kaddish, though carrying reverence and sorrow, is not merely mournful.

I went to the library and found a thick old dusty book that had a translation of the text of the kaddish. Look at this:

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.

Suppose one did not believe in “God,” as I’m not sure I do (for I will admit that I’m too young for a tested faith. Ask me again when I am an old man, and I’ll be able to answer truthfully if, for me, there is a God or not), even then, one must admit that there is something to these lines that stops a soul in wonder: is it the world that was created according to plan, or is it the plan that God’s great name, in this world, be exalted and hallowed?

When I pondered those words, I decided that I would learn this piece, regardless of what my orchestra teacher believes I am ready for.

I am ready to express reverence–because life itself, this great universe, was created through reverence. Or rather, reverence is the result of creation. And I have decided that if I can allow music to flow through me, in a way that expresses something of this reverence, then my time with my instrument will not be a waste.

Even if I’m the only one who feels, while the music flows through me, humble under this wide sky, then I will know that my decision to play the Kaddish was the only right decision. If you’re going to be human, what is your life, if it is not touched now and then with humility and reverence?


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