Meredith Levick

It’s not all numbers (they don’t make sense)

Day 118 of the war (although it may be 119 by the time this is published).

136 hostages still in Gaza.

The 22nd of Shevat 5784.

I remember the days in grade school when we had to become skilled in all content areas: science, English literature, social studies, mathematics, physical education, and beyond. Our interests were far reaching, and our days were full of variety.

When I was in tenth grade I won the award for best student in chemistry class. Now that feels like a story about a stranger because I haven’t handled a beaker since the late 90s. As we grow up, the field of vision narrows. We are encouraged towards specificity, a clear path forward. At university we pursue a major, land an internship (hopefully paid), we may go to graduate school. The path further narrows. Being a  generalist makes others uncomfortable. How can we be good at so many things? If we’re excellent at a number of things, can people trust us in that assessment, either self driven or external?

Which box do we fit inside if we’re broad-reaching in our interests and our skills?

We make choices. Hobbies fall to the wayside – tennis practice on Tuesdays, piano lessons on Thursdays – they are replaced by other more rational activities. Our playfulness, our absurdity, our creativity is usurped by pragmatism. My collages have become Excel spreadsheets. My lock-and-key diary entries are now grocery lists. Even my change purse is now a tap-able credit card. I make the bed every morning, run a load of laundry every other day, and never leave dishes in the sink.

Looking back, I realize there was a choice I didn’t even know I was making:

Was it going to be numbers or words?

Was I going to live a quantifiable life or a qualitative one?

I worked at Forbes magazine, my first job after graduating from Northwestern. It was the summer of 2004, hot as hell, as I commuted from my mom’s home in Westchester down to Union Square every day. I think I earned less than $30,000 USD annually, and I didn’t even understand the context for my compensation regardless. I was toggling between the two worlds – between words and numbers, between the journey and the destination, between the uncertainty and the finite. I worked for a magazine in the business space because there was something that felt safe about it – and working on the sales end meant I was even more likely to head towards success, whatever that word meant.

I didn’t even know what I wanted or who I was – but choosing a life of numbers definitely seemed less dangerous than falling into an abyss of words. The goals were clear – the sales numbers, the partnerships landed, the corporate deals. Language is where emotion lives. Language is where I might have my heart broken, I might be disappointed, I might lose more than I had to gain. I had to keep things tidier than that. I couldn’t afford to give into that kind of mess. 

I keep thinking about supporting the Bring Them Home Now cause by buying one of those commitment disk necklaces, but I don’t want the hostages to be in captivity for as long as it would take for the necklaces to arrive to my house from Israel. So ultimately I don’t purchase.

5 necklaces for 150 shekelim for those Bring Them Home now necklaces.

1st birthday in captivity for Kfir Bibas.

Transferred $2K USD to my savings account with a high yield interest rate of – you get the point here.

Cut out added sugar for 2 months and lost 7 pounds.

Counted 3 more grey hairs and gained exceptional pleasure by listening to more music in the car.

We think we’re heading somewhere. We so want to believe we’re on a path. Look, I’ve been on the path since I was about 15 years old and decided how it was all going to be. Except none of it has been what I thought it would be – and all the test scores, admissions fees, excursions to the gym, calories counted, clothing items decluttered, bills paid, and miles driven simply cannot add up to the sum of its parts:

there is no mathematical equation that can define or even soften the intensity of the human experience.

136 hostages.

118 days (now 119)…

Too many social posts than I can count.

Countless WhatsApp messages exchanged with my loved ones in Israel (and elsewhere) – some loving, some desperate, some wild, some grounded, some inexplicably painful.

It’s not all numbers. Because the numbers don’t make sense. They don’t add up to a total I can fathom. So I find my way into language – into the space between you and me where we can fall into each other’s arms, where we navigate a ferocity that neither of us knew we would witness. We use words to give feeble voice to the inexplicable. 

We pay homage and pay bills.

We make shiva calls and make doctor’s appointments.

We fall into self-doubt and fall into impossible love.

136 hostages.

I’m holding them with me all the time – in all the languages that my mouth and my heart can hang onto for today. 

About the Author
Meredith Levick is a senior program professional with a background in communications, client management, and organizational development. Her work experience spans the secular and the Jewish world, and she thrives on creating mutually rich cross-collaborations and supporting global Jewry. Currently she works as a consultant for a number of organizations, including Hakhel: The Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator and the Varda Institute, based in Israel. Additionally she is a non-fiction writer and poet and believes in the power of harnessing the shared nature of the human experience to relate more deeply to each other and to day to day life. Meredith holds a BA in English literature and Spanish from Northwestern University and an MA in Experiential Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Additionally, she received a graduate certification in Israel Education from the iCenter. Meredith is a proud graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Adaptive Leadership Lab, funded by the Jewish Agency for Israel.
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