In a TedTalk given at TedxBoulder, Ash Beckham speaks about “coming out of the closet.” Ash challenges her listeners to shift their perspectives from the traditional use of this phrase and repurpose this idea to frame conceptions about having difficult conversations. Ash teaches that “coming out of the closet” is a necessary tool, whether you are gay, fighting cancer, or getting a divorce, to have the conversations our natural inclinations may shy away from. She talks about her own experience coming out, and the ways in which she brought her family and friends into the conversation. Towards the end of her talk, Ash warns, “If you’re gonna be real with someone, you’ve got to be ready for real in return.”
You may have guessed it, but Ash was the inspiration for the name of this project. I, too, want to engender difficult conversation, but this time, around a topic near and dear to my heart.
In August 2013, I made the crazy decision to register for the Philadelphia Marathon. In case you needed clarification as to why running a marathon is crazy, I provide you with the following reasons: 1) It’s 26.2 miles. That’s double the length of Manhattan. 2) A good runner will finish in under four hours (I am not a good runner, and knew I would finish in closer to five hours than four). 3) Training involves running four to six days a week, so free time is all but a notion of the past. And if these reasons aren’t enough to convince you, then you’re probably ready to sign up for a marathon!
On July 4, 2013, my story began to change. I had recently graduated college and was nearing the end of my millenial “funemployment.” I was celebrating the summer holiday by preparing for a big move from the suburbs of Philadelphia to New York City to start a career. My preparation to move was not the only one taking place that day: my parents spent the day running errands preparing for their simultaneous move… to Bala Cynwyd. If you’re familiar with suburban Philadelphia, then you know that Bala Cynwyd is known for it’s beautiful, sprawling houses, nouveau riche population, and well, Orthodox Jews. Because, my parents were not just moving to Bala Cynwyd, they were transitioning to a life of observant Judaism. My family identified with Conservative Judaism when I was growing up. We went to synagogue for Shabbat services, kept a form of kosher in the house, and were involved in synagogue life. But now, my parents were becoming baalei teshuvah, which is defined by Chabad.org as “a Jew of secular or not fully observant background who has decided to undertake full Torah observance.”