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Finding Rabbi Khalili

This summer, during my vacation to Spain, I discovered that the religious atmosphere is radically different from that of Long Island.  My brother, Dylan, had decided to have his bar mitzvah in Europe, rather than having a traditional reception at home.  The bar mitzvah vacation was originally supposed to have taken place in Israel, but these plans became impossible upon the eruption of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.  Truthfully, I have never been much of a believer in Judaism, and yet I was quite moved by the following event.

On the evening that we were to meet with the Rabbi, we carefully explored the street that was specified in the address, but could not find the synagogue.  At long last, my father stumbled upon a man with a long black beard – an arguably “Jewish-looking” man, to our eyes – going into a smallish, whitewashed building.  My father politely, yet abruptly, stopped him.

“Excuse me, Señor.  I’m looking for Rabbi Khalili.”“Rabbi Khalili?  I do not know this man,” he said in Spanish.“Is this building the synagogue?”The man paused, gave my father a sidelong glance, then replied in a hushed tone.  “Erm, yes.  It is.  What is it that you need here?” he said distrustfully.

After this mysterious encounter, we entered the building to find that it was a beautiful, two-room synagogue, adorned with Hebrew and Spanish phrases, and with various bits of traditional Jewish decorum hanging on the walls.  A few men near the rear entrance were removing prayer shawls and yarmulkes from inconspicuous white shopping bags.  The windows were gleaming panes of stained glass.  We later discovered that these were “one-way” stained glass windows, which explained why we could not identify the synagogue from the outside.

My family and I were awestricken.  How amazingly different this was than in New York!  This was not a huge, obvious synagogue like ours on Long Island; this was about the size of a small house.  It was almost like a shelter—a haven for the local Jewish community.  The congregants did not flaunt their culture; instead, they were inward and satisfied.  They were reserved, yet dignified and determined.

Although I have never been an ardent Jew, I believe that I had a strong revival of spirit that day.  I realized that not everyone has the pleasure of practicing his religion freely, even though it seems routine in New York.  The suspicious and defensive tone of the congregant, the one-way stained glass windows, the fact that men had to hide their tallises1 in shopping bags—all made me realize that the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs is not a mundane gift.  It is an extraordinary privilege that I will always be thankful for.

 1 prayer-shawls

Without a doubt, one of the most meaningful aspects of my life is music—specifically classical music.  I find that nothing has the ability to be more relaxing, more energizing, more saddening, more exciting, or more enchanting than a symphony orchestra on a Saturday evening.  There are three main reasons why I am so passionate about classical music:  First, I was exposed to it at an early age.  Second, I find that it has a mysterious quality that separates it from all other art forms.  Last, I enjoy classical music because a single piece can be heard repeatedly, without the listener tiring of its content.

 I believe that more people would enjoy classical music if they were exposed to it at an early age, as I was.  After a certain period of time, it is natural for any person to become accustomed to popular music—the music that is played most often on the radio, and the music that is most listened to by his/her friends.  Thankfully, my parents have been playing me classical music ever since birth.  For my whole life, I have been drawn to its beauty and power.  After a childhood of listening to classical music, no vast amount of peer pressure could have drawn me away from it.  In fact, classical music has affected my whole perspective on popular music: the latter lacks almost all of the virtues of the former.  Popular music does not have nearly the emotional force that classical music does.  Technically, the intricacy of popular music is neither as high nor as sophisticated as classical music.  If only more people were exposed to it at an early age, they’d be able to appreciate it.

There are but a few art-forms in this world that have the power to evoke such a wide range of emotions: among them are film, literature, and music.  But the thing that distinguishes music from the others is its mysterious “method of operation”; in other words, how does music work?  In literature and film, we are presented with a situation that we are able to associate with a particular emotion.  We have all experienced some form of physical pain at one point or another; therefore, when Voldemort tortures Harry Potter, we are able to associate an emotion with that event.  However, how is it possible to associate that same emotion with the brazen call of a trumpet or the passionate cry of a cello?  We are given no situation to identify with—so how can we get the same thrill from Rachmaninoff as we get from James Bond?  (At least I do.)  This perplexing quality of classical music captivates me.  Admittedly, popular songs do have words, suggesting some kind of situation or story.  But classical music is much more abstract, which makes it more intellectual than other forms of music.

Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa de Requiem is approximately one hour and forty minutes long, yet I could listen to it over and over again, without ever becoming tired or bored.  This is yet another virtue of classical music, and another reason that classical music is important to me.  Because most classical music is so complex, one can hear the same piece repeatedly, and hear something different every time.

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These three reasons have caused classical music to become a large part of my life.  I only wish that more people could share this passion.

“It is no surprise that debates over nature and nurture evoke more rancor than just about any issue in the world of ideas.”  In this quotation, Steven Pinker—author of four award-winning books on biological determinism—comments on an issue that has confounded people for centuries.  This, of course, is the argument of whether “nature” or “nurture” dictates our traits and behaviors.  In this instance, nurture connotes the environmental factors that influence one’s character.  Nature represents the idea that heredity is the principle determinant of human traits.  The phrase’s etymology is quite interesting; first coined by Francis Galton, it was probably taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “A devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick.”  Many believe that at birth, the human mind is a tabula rasa—a “blank slate”—and that most traits are adopted during one’s life.  To the contrary, many others believe that a person’s traits and behavior are preordained by heredity.  In my honest opinion, such a categorically partisan decision cannot be logically made.  Several aspects of a person’s character have been scientifically proven to be caused by ancestry; conversely, some skills and mannerisms are quite clearly acquired during a person’s development.  Most common, however, are the traits that are governed by both genetics and environment.  In his essay entitled Why Nature & Nurture Won’t Go Away, Pinker cogently argues his position that nature is the primary influence on one’s characteristics.  In the essay, he also attempts to dislodge the “nurture” argument and the “mixture-of-both” argument.  Yet, I stand by that latter opinion.  No one could possibly be so bold as to refute either nature or nurture, not even Steven Pinker.  Clearly, genes and environmental signals equally contribute to behavior.

There are some traits that are purely hereditary.  However, most of these clear-cut traits are physiological, having to do with the body.  Examples of genetically controlled traits include vulnerability to diabetes, eye color, and ear lobe detachment—things that are usually static after birth (excepting plastic surgery of course).  Environment does not have any imminent effect on these hereditary traits.  Another relatively clear-cut trait is religion.  Statistically, most children adopt the religious ideals of their parents.  Even after the natural stage of doubt that comes with adolescence, most people will return to their parents’ religious preferences in adulthood.  This parent-child influence practically defines the “nurture” argument.  Parent-child religious trust is something that can only be established during development.  Even if a person decides to observe a different religion than that of his parents, the “nurture” argument is still being proven: it suggests a lack of trust and reinforcement, or a desire for independence.  In Pinker’s words, children do not wish “to surrender to their parents’ attempts to shape them.”  This struggle is engendered only after birth, not in the womb.  Pinker claims: “Virtually everyone concludes that the behavior of the parent causes the outcomes in the child.  The possibility that the correlations may arise from shared genes is usually not even mentioned, let alone tested.”  I have two responses to this statement: First, the parent’s behavior usually does cause the outcome of the child (unless they live apart from each other).  And second, parent-to-child gene transfer has been proven to affect their similarities, yet religious belief is different.  Religious agreement is not a behavioral “correlation,” it is a matter of ethics.

Most characteristics, however, are more complex, usually including genetic influence and environmental influence.  The simplest examples of this would be weight and skin color, which rely both on genes and on environment.  A more complex example would be language.  Pinker writes: “Children exposed to a given language acquire it equally quickly regardless of their racial ancestry.  Though people may be genetically predisposed to learn language, they are not genetically predisposed, even in part, to learn a particular language; the explanation for why people in different countries speak differently is 100 percent environmental.”  Again, Pinker puts all of his trust on one side of argument and not the other.  It is true, that people are not genetically predisposed to learn a particular language.  However, the main point is that people do have a predisposition to learn languages in general.  Pinker actually mentions this, and then dismisses it as unimportant!  This predisposition allows human beings to have great versatility in terms of learning languages—Why should the particular language matter at all?  Therefore, “100 percent environmental” is a false assumption; a child’s language education is partly influenced by heredity, and partly by environment.  (One must be wary when reading from Pinker.  He often attempts to dispel criticism by using phrases like “100 percent.”  Do not be fooled!)

Another interesting case of the nature vs. nurture debate would be free will.  Do people really control their own decisions?  Are a person’s choices genetically preordained, or are they shaped by his environment?  Can people really be blamed for how they act?  This argument cannot be backed by scientific data, but rather, must be discussed philosophically.  In 1924, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murdered a 14-year-old boy, and were caught red-handed.  Their lawyer, trying desperately to win the case, broached the topic of free will: “this terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some ancestor… Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? … it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university.”  According to the lawyer, the boys’ decision to commit the crime was influenced by radical environmental forces.  An opposing argument would have been that Leopold and Loeb were born to be cruel and vicious, and that they therefore deserved to be locked away in prison.

While only a few traits apply to either nature or nurture, most belong to both at once.  The fact that environmental forces actually trigger genetically-based reactions reinforces this theory.  Heredity and developmental experience work in sync with each other; therefore, it is erroneous to say that dominance belongs to one or the other.  If the question of nature vs. nurture was asked of me, I would reply that the answer is “a fair mixture of both.” 

 1 Shakespeare, The Tempest. 

 Bibliography : 1)) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture    2)) Pinker, Why Nature & Nurture Won’t Go Away, 2004    3)) Gould, The Politics of Biological Determinism, 1999

Cannabis, a Crime?

Please keep in mind that the following was simply an exercise in persuasive writing.  I did not actually agree with its content while I was writing it.  However, I think I might have convinced myself…

Here in America, illegal drugs have already become an integral part of our society, whether we like it or not.  Despite the federal government’s avid attempts to thwart smugglers and drug-dealers, drugs continue to spread throughout the nation.  Youths and adults alike consume drugs of all different kinds: LSD, heroin, crystal meth, and so on.  However, the most widely used illegal drug in America is the Cannabis sativa plant, better known as marijuana or “pot”.  Marijuana’s illegality has created a multitude of problems for American citizens, and the American government.  I therefore believe that marijuana smoking and consumption should be legalized in the United States of America.  The legalization of marijuana would be beneficial in many different ways: the government would no longer have to spend time and money to prevent proliferation, American citizens would be able to enjoy themselves without having to worry about incarceration, and people would have open access to a substance that is, in fact, less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.

Marijuana has already taken hold in our society.  Its mass proliferation is plainly visible at parties, in clubs, and in movies.  The fact that marijuana has become a part of our culture is simply incontrovertible.  Therefore, it has already become a useless gesture for the government to outlaw it.  Not only is the law being disobeyed, but it is not even being well-enforced.  In this era, buying pot is a very simple procedure.  In fact, marijuana is becoming more and more accessible as the years pass.  It is folly for the government to try to fight this process, because it is happening nevertheless.  Our federal government is wasting vast amounts of money every year to prevent smuggling, trade and consumption.  This money could be spent on more important things!  Evidently, it is in everyone’s best interest to legalize marijuana—including the government’s.

One of the most astounding claims that promotes the legalization of marijuana is the fact that it is actually less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.  It is not surprising that people find this hard to believe.  Marijuana has remained illegal in America for so long, that people have come to believe that it is a poison.  This is certainly not the case!  While tobacco causes emphysema, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cannabis provokes none of these maladies.  Numerous tests have shown that tobacco causes pregnant women to give birth to newborns with birth defects and developmental delays; however, marijuana has been shown to have no such effects.  Another factor to consider is addiction.  While tobacco and alcohol addictions are directly related to biochemical processes, marijuana addiction is solely a mental dependence—nothing more than an irrational belief.  According to these facts, there is more reason to outlaw cigarettes than pot.  It seems that the only thing holding people back is the solitary fact that possessing marijuana is illegal.  Since marijuana is even less dangerous than cigarettes, it is only logical that it should be legalized.

Please do not misinterpret my argument as being naïve or idealistic.  I fully realize what could happen if marijuana was legalized too abruptly.  Therefore, it might be more appropriate for the government to simply lessen the constraints.  For instance, why not make possession of cannabis punishable by confiscation or a fine, rather than prison?  This would make marijuana-smoking seem less like a felony.

Many have brought up the fact that marijuana impairs decision-making skills, as well as short term memory and learning capabilities.  These claims are undoubtedly true.  However, the dangers posed by cigarettes and alcohol are far greater.  Thousands of people die every year, as a result of driving while under the influence of alcohol.  The number of marijuana-related automobile accidents is far smaller.

In our society, people tend to look down upon those who smoke pot.  People give pejorative names to smokers, such as “druggy” or “pothead”.  Why is it, however, that this strange cultural phenomenon occurs?  Most members of our society envision cannabis-smokers as being immoral, lazy, and careless.  However, marijuana is simply a method of enjoyment!  Should we look down upon those who feast on Thanksgiving, those who set off fireworks on the Fourth of July, those who drink champagne on New Year’s Eve?  Sexual intercourse can transmit fatal diseases—should we outlaw this as well?

If cannabis were legalized in the United States of America, almost everyone would benefit.  First, the government would have a vast amount of surplus revenue, to use as it saw fit.  Second, people would be able to freely enjoy themselves, without fear of incarceration.  Third, it is likely that less people would resort to tobacco, which is more harmful than marijuana.  In brief, the legalization of marijuana would be a boon to our society.

In my SAT tutoring program, students are urged to take a practice SAT every weekend.  And yes, that means four hours of test-taking agony every Saturday morning.  Hardly the most exciting way to start off a Saturday.  Yet, the SAT is far from the actual topic of this particular post.  While taking an SAT a couple of weeks ago, I came across a “Passage One, Passage Two” section that caught my interest.  (A “Passage One, Passage Two” section, for those who are unfamiliar with the SAT, is a part of the test that presents two short passages, and asks you to compare and contrast them.  Sounds fun, eh?)  This specific one was about the virtues of classical music.  Although I myself have much to write about this topic, I was compelled to tear the page out of the test booklet–drawing bewildered glances from my neighbors–so that I could share its content.  Below are both passages.  I plan to elaborate on them both in due time.  I hope that I’m not breaking any sort of copyright laws by doing this, but here it goes…

 Passage 1

Classical music is termed “classical” because it can be heard over and over again without the listener tiring of the music.  A symphony of Brahms can be heard and heard again with the same or even hightened enjoyment a few months later.  It is unfortunate that the Compact Disc (CD) sales of classical music is dismal compared to other types of music.  Perhaps this is because many people in our generation were not exposed to classical music at an early age and therefore did not get to know the music.

Passage 2

Rock and contemporary music has a high impact on the listener but unfortunately is not evergreen.  Its enjoyment lasts only as long as there is current interest in the topic or emotion that the music portrays and that only lasts for 3 months or so until other music replaces it, especially when another best selling song comes out.  The reason why the impact of this type of music is not as great when it first comes out is thought to be because thechnically the intricacy of the music is not high and not sophisticated, although many critics believe it is because the music elicits a particular emotional feeling which gradually becomes worn out in time.

 I’ll spare you the questions that followed.

Great Quotes

Serious Quotes

Let him that would move the world first move himself.

-Socrates

Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.

-Confucius

Work like you don’t need the money, dance like no one is watching, and love like you’ve never been hurt.

-Mark Twain

Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.

-Mark Twain

When I was fourteen years old, I was amazed at how unintelligent my father was.  By the time I turned twenty-one, I was astounded at how much he had learned in the past seven years.

-Mark Twain

I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.  Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world.

-Albert Einstein

Hide not your talents– they for use were made.  For what use is a sundial, lying in the shade?

-Benjamin Franklin

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

-Thomas Jefferson

The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.

-John F. Kennedy

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.

-Robert F. Kennedy

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

-Derek Bok: Ex-president of Harvard University

Life is like a grindstone; whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends on what you’re made of.

-Anonymous

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared or feared rather than loved.  One might perhaps answer that we should wish to be both, but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.

-Niccolo Machiavelli

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

-Napoleon Bonaparte

Not all who wander are lost.

-J. R. R. Tolkien

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Funny Quotes

I used to have mad cow disease, but I’m alright nooooooooooooow.

-Billy Connolly

When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bike.  Then I realized that The Lord doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.

-Emo Philips

Duct tape is like the force.  It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

-Carl Zwanzig

I told my wife the truth.  I told her I was seeing a psychiatrist.  Then she told me the truth: that she was seeing a psychiatrist, two plumbers and a bartender.

-Rodney Dangerfield

My mom was a ventriloquist and she was always throwing her voice.  For ten years, I thought the dog was telling me to kill my father.

-Wendy Leibman

When I was a boy, my mother wore a mood ring.  When she was in a good mood, it turned blue.  When she was in a bad mood, it left a big red mark on my forehead.

-Jeff Shaw

The toilets at a local police station have been stolen.  Police say they have nothing to go on.

-Ronnie Barker

We used to play spin the bottle when I was a kid.  A girl would spin the bottle and if it pointed to you when it stopped, the girl could either kiss you or give you a dime.  By the time I was fourteen, I owned my own home.

-Gene Perret

I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.

-Steven Wright

Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.  After that, who cares?  He’s a mile away, and you’ve got his shoes!

-Billy Connolly

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty.  She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.

-Ellen DeGeneres

The Czar

Mildred Barron did not like to smile— not often, at least.  She liked knit sweaters and wheat biscuits, but she did not like television or Twinkies.  She did not like makeup either.  In fact, the scarcity of makeup on her face was disquietingly ascetic, to say the least.  She had livid cheeks and an exceptionally long nose.  Mildred Barron was reserved, yet dignified.  One could tell at first sight that Mildred was—or had been—a lady of some importance.  Her black hair was compacted into a bun of infinite density, over which was draped a net of yarn that she had sewn up herself.  She did not have many wrinkles, mostly due to the strain of her hair pulling her skin back against her forehead.  One habit she possessed was a tendency to purse her lips when dissatisfied.  She was not a particularly strong woman, yet the muscles that surrounded her mouth had gotten to be remarkably toned.  Her dark eyes had the distinct capability of impaling whomever they settled on.  Nobody, nobody could meet the formidable glance of Mildred Barron for more than two or three seconds.

If there was one thing that Mildred enjoyed with a passion, it was silence.  She did not own a doorbell, or a door knocker for that matter.  Her radio was kept off, and her telephone unplugged.  Her tables and chairs never creaked; not even her bed groaned when she lay down to rest.  It was almost as if her whole house had been intimidated into quiet submission.

And so, when Mildred Barron awoke at seven thirty on a chilly Monday morning, there was nothing about the cloudy sky to suggest that anything out-of-the-ordinary would be happening that day.  She sharply yanked off her sheets and stood up, coldly ignoring the frost on her window.  Sniffing dryly, Mildred ambled over to her wardrobe and picked out a stark, brown dress to wear that day.  It was at this moment that she noticed the first sign of something peculiar—someone whistling outside.

“The nerve!” thought Mildred.  It was way too bitter a morning for whistling.  Regardless of the weather, the perfect tranquility that had begun her morning had now been shattered.  It was probably that insolent child from next door that she despised oh so much.  …snake of a boy…” she muttered to herself through pursed lips.  In Mildred’s opinion, young people should always be judged guilty until proven innocent.  The whistling was now fading into the distance.  Mildred decided to put the incident behind her, thinking that this episode would be long forgotten after her porridge.

The rest of Mildred’s day progressed naturally.  Around midday she enjoyed a cup of weak mint tea and some dry toast, and by three o’clock in the afternoon, the intrusion had been completely forgotten. 

At three thirty thereabouts, Mildred had been sitting with a book of Emily Dickenson, enjoying the silence— 

“I’m wife; I’ve finished that, that other state; I’m Czar, I’m woman now: It’s safer so.  How odd the girl’s life looks behind this soft eclipse!  I think that earth seems so to those in heaven now.”

She savored the words like caviar.  However, as she set the book down on the counter and rose up from her armchair, there it was again!  That horrid whistling!

Enough!” she snapped, “I am going to put an end to this!”

And promptly, she shoved on her coat with a grunt, and swept out through the front door, slamming it behind her.  She looked about and quickly determined the source of the atrocious sound—a grown man, not the boy at all!  From what she could tell, the man was in his mid-forties, with black hair and a trimmed beard.  He was wearing a beige overcoat with a matching hat, and a brown briefcase.  His scarf hung limply from his neck all the way down to his shiny black shoes.  But it made no difference whom he was.  No one had the right to ruin her quiet meditations.  She preemptively pursed her lips and strode over.

The man saw her approach and looked up with a smile.  He had sparkling blue eyes and a pair of full, yet not overwhelming, eyebrows.  His cheeks had a softened glow that made him look as if he’d just spent a few hours by the fireplace.  His nose was large and crooked.

“Hello, Miss,” he said, removing his hat, “My name is Mr. Olvida—Henry Olvida.  I just moved in last week—the yellow house up the block.  Terribly sorry not to have met you sooner, but I’ve had to start up my job right away, you see.  And what is your name, if I might ask?”

Mildred was astounded.

“I’m Millie.  Millie Barron.  It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Olvida.”

“Well, Miss Barron, I—”

“Please, call me Millie,” she urged.

“Why yes… Millie…”  He smiled graciously.  “And you may, of course, call me Henry.”

After sharing a very pleasant conversation about how cold it was, they waved farewell to each other and parted.  Mildred strode back to her house, closed the door behind her, poured herself a generous portion of bourbon, and sat contentedly in her armchair.

She sat there beaming for hours, thinking of nothing but her encounter with Henry.  Such a nice man… How I do hope to speak with him again soon… Come to think of it now, it would be so nice to have a man in my life after all these years… another—

Her lips tightened instinctively.  She couldn’t.  It just wasn’t possible.

She moved to the sink and abruptly set her drink down with a clatter.  The glass fell on its side, noisily spilling the alcohol down the drain.  Mildred hesitated for a moment but continued into her room, neglecting the upset glass.  She lay down in bed and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes.  She then closed her eyes, muttered something to herself and fell into a dreamless sleep.

The bourbon slowly dripped down the drain.

As weeks passed, Mildred and Henry talked more and more often.  Winter’s chill subsided and became spring, and it became much more bearable to hold a conversation outside.  Henry’s whistling was no longer a disturbance to Mildred, but a refreshing melody that pierced the dull silence.  However, the more Henry grew to be a companion, the more Mildred’s fears were amplified.  Every night, she would argue herself into a corner, chaining herself to her austere lifestyle.  On one hand, she did not want to spend the rest of her days reading Dickenson to an imaginary companion in the quiet darkness; on the other hand, she simply could not enter a personal relationship with Henry!  It just wasn’t possible!  And yet, she almost seemed to be…  It wasn’t just the conversations, but the way they looked at each other—a latent sparkle in the eyes, a sense of inescapable fascination.

Thus, it came as no particular surprise when Henry, one day, asked Mildred to have dinner with him that night.  He had simply cleared his throat and asked her, all the while concentrating very intently on his shoes.  Mildred hadn’t flinched.  In fact, she had shown absolutely no signs of the terror, the indecisiveness, or the burning conflict that was plaguing her soul.  Instead, she had swallowed her sadness, and agreed.

Mildred closed the front door with a hollow thud that made her heart jump.  She put her back to the door, shut her eyes and took a few shallow breaths before continuing to her room.  Opening her wardrobe, she was struck with a disturbing thought: how dark and depressing all her clothes were!  Blacks, browns and grays filled the shelves from top to bottom… Is this really how she had clothed herself for the past several years—shrouded in darkness?  This realization was not only disillusioning, but infuriating.  She envisioned herself—a figure in black—sitting in the darkness, silently reading poetry, occasionally leaning out the window to yell at a passing child.  She had been lulled into a life of dull austerity!  Promising to buy herself a bright green dress the next day, she hastily grabbed a dress and stepped into it.  There was no longer any doubt in her mind: Henry was her panacea.

The frigid evening bit at Mildred’s forearms as she stepped onto the moonlit patio.  Deciding not to walk through the biting cold, she stepped into her car.  For a trip down the block, the car ride seemed to take a very long time.  If Mildred despised her gloomy life, then why did she have such a sense of foreboding in her heart?  She knew that Henry was the answer to her problem, but then why was she uncomfortable in his presence?

At long last, she arrived at the small yellow house.  Her uncertainty was bothering her like an itch between the shoulder blades.  She put the car into park, feeling much like the young swimmer who scoffs at the high dive but cannot surmount it when the moment presents itself.

Inside the house, Henry had just finished setting out the candlesticks when he noticed the sound of a raspy engine outside.  He straightened his tie and began to walk towards Mildred’s opening car window.

“Shall we?” he offered.

“I—can’t.”  The words escaped her grudgingly.  “I’m sorry Henry, but I—I just can’t.”  And with that, she lurched away from the smiling face of her savior, desperately urging the car forward into the silent darkness.  Her mind was blank.  She drove on, aimlessly turning from street to street, until she found herself in front of a large, iron gate—she was at the cemetery.  She passed through the gate, not realizing that Henry was following her.

Mildred stepped out of the car onto a patch of dry grass and headed for an aging gravestone in the distance.  Perhaps it was because of the cold, or perhaps it was simply involuntary, but at that moment her hands met and began washing away an invisible grime.  She let out a quavering sigh and placed her hands in her pockets.  Her mind drifted back to Dickenson:

“I’m woman now: It’s safer so…”

She arrived at the stone and stood there, transfixed.

Just then, Mildred heard a car pull up next to hers in the parking lot behind her.  Involuntarily, her legs began to carry her forward, away from the cars.

“Millie!” yelled Henry from behind.  “Millie, what—”

But his eyes had fallen on something peculiar.  At first, he thought he was mistaken, but he was not.  He glanced at the retreating Mildred, and again at the stark gravestone.  He cleared his throat, then swallowed and turned back toward his car.  The name of Mildred’s late husband had been carved onto the walls of Henry’s mind, as it had been etched into the stone itself.

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