I have an incredible mentor who years ago was a powerful trailblazer, speaking openly about domestic violence in the Jewish community.
She changed the face of this issue for many. She sat on countless boards in Los Angeles and spearheaded numerous committees. She is outspoken, witty, smart, funny and incredibly fierce.
She also happens to be 92 years old. Her health has put her in and out of the hospital too many times in the last few months. She has lost a lot of weight and right now is very fragile.
I try to visit this woman and have a meal with her at least once a month. I can’t always make that happen. I wish I could go once a week.
I absolutely love my visits with her. Every time I’m there, I learn, I grow, and I am aware of how incredibly grateful I am to have this woman in my life.
The other week I went to see her after an absence of a few months. I knew that in these months she had not been well. When she opened the door for me, she looked so fragile physically, yet her spirit was as strong as ever.
She still has strong opinions and doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade. In every sentence, she shines a light on something I didn’t think of. So many of her stories could be the narrative of an epic Hollywood movie.
As we sat at lunch, I looked at her beautiful face and I kept thinking that she holds in her essence the capacity to be so fragile yet so fierce at the same time.
How extraordinary this special friend of mine is.
I stood in front of my class looking at my tough, tattooed, fierce gang members.
I am struck by how, behind that rough being of theirs, they are so incredibly fragile. I smile and think they are the opposite version of my mentor whom I saw the day before.
She is “fragilely” fierce, while my students are fiercely fragile.
My fragile mentor, whom I love beyond words, has been an activist her whole life. With great humility, she shared with me that she feels guilty that she is not doing enough in these trying times. I told her that in her life she has done more than enough to make the world a better place. It is our job now.
I then added,
“Don’t forget that by supporting me and my work, you help ME make the world a better place. That is a priceless gift.”
I pray that she knows how much she means to me. How her consistent donations throughout the years have been crucial to Advot’s survival and that her emotional support has walked me through the hardest of times.
There was such beauty in her fragility because she remains incredibly fierce.
My students are so invested in being fierce. They are, after all, ex- gang bangers. I try to teach them it is impressive when they allow themselves to be fragile.
“I cannot show that I am weak,” she tells me.
“Why?” I ask.
“Cause, then people will think they can use me.”
My heart hurts when she says this.
“You know, not everyone will use you.”
She looks at me. Annoyed. I look at her, and I am not sure what to say.
What do you tell someone who has been abused, sex-trafficked and treated poorly again and again by everyone she knows?
I quietly say, “It’s okay to be fragile. Sometimes, people will treat you with more care if they see you need it.”
I tell her that being able to be fragile and weak is a strength.
“That might be true in your world,” she says.
“Not in mine!”
She looks at me disappointed. Like I don’t know shit.
I stand there.
“Okay,” I say. “I hear you. All I am saying( and I say again ) sometimes when you allow yourself to be weak, you are being strong.”
“You should be on a billboard, Ms.”
“Very funny,” I responded.
I can feel the wall I am up against and I accept it. I have learned that even on the days I feel totally unheard, you never know who is listening. Two weeks later I come in only to receive a huge hug from my skeptical young lady.
“It worked,” she tells me.
“What?” I ask.
“The fragile thing.”
She tells me she got custody of her kid.
“How?” I ask.
“I was soft but strong,” she says.
“I cried,” she tells me.
“I then told them I miss my baby. I told them I fucked up and I am clean now. I was so fucking weak, Ms., I was strong as a rock. You were right, Ms. You were so right.”
I think to myself, was I???
I am not sure this is what I meant, but I am so happy she heard me. She hugs me again.
“You really need to find that billboard, Ms.”
“No, I don’t,” I say.
“You are my billboard.”
I look at my mentor.
“Can you leave the house?” I ask.
“Nope,” she says.
“Only to go to doctor appointments,” she tells me.
“I wish you could come to our event,” I say.
“So do I, but I can’t. I am so sorry.”
She writes me a check. Without knowing, she just paid for the tickets of parents of kids performing that night to be able to attend. My heart is at ease knowing I can actually let them come see their kids on stage.
I gently give her a hug because she really is so fragile. She looks at me with her fierce eyes.
“I wish I could give you more.”
“You have given me so much,” I tell her.
I am a little tired. My 92 -year-old beautiful friend says good-bye to me and gets ready for her next visitor who is already at the door.
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