Coming of Age

Knowing the future is underrated.

You probably already know your future, and you’re not even aware of it. 

When you were born, likely kicking and screaming, with barely a shred of consciousness in your mind, your parents/guardians had a plan for you. 

Their plan could have been pretty typical and unspoken, like “I want my child to do well for themselves in this chaotic world.”

Or the plan can be detailed and specific, with 613 rules and restrictions which this child is expected to observe from “adulthood” (12 for a girl, 13 for a boy) onward.

If you were born in the latter group, the years before adulthood are generally seen as a tutorial, where you learn the rules without your transgressions being counted on your ledger of life.

But from a young age, you are taught that you are always being watched, and by One that you can’t see, speak with, or hear from. 

Now, of course, you can pray and talk TO your prison guard, but you can’t talk WITH Him. There is no response, you can’t see or hear him

However, you are taught that He is always listening, always watching, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

Being watched, in many ways, made me feel a sense of peace and safety. 

After all, “I’ll watch you, don’t worry!” is a phrase that is regularly said by parents to reassure their kids when they are fearful. 

I know I’m not alone in having felt that safety in my prison cell. After the atrocities committed in World War 2, we all needed a little bit of safety. 

I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, knows all the deeds and thoughts of human beings, as it is said, "It is He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who perceives all their actions." - Maimonides (1556) (Jewish Daily Prayers)


When you say something over and over and over and over again, your mind learns it by rote and learns to internalize it as fact. 

“I think someone is watching”, said enough times, becomes “I BELIEVE someone is watching.”

And believing someone is watching, while extremely restrictive, is still somehow safe. 

Consider the panopticon, a prison designed where there is always a guard watching from a central tower, who can see every prisoner, but the prisoners can’t see them. 

In this hypothetical panopticon for the sake of this metaphor, there is a gap in the floor before you can get to the stairs on the way down, and there are no walls or gates facing the inside of the prison. If you ignore your known limits, and if you walk one step too far past the actual true limit, you can fall to your death. 

The prisoner sits there, afraid to move as they don’t know where the limit of their cell is. All they know is that there’s a guard in the center who is meant to watch them and keep them safe. But the guard doesn’t speak to them. All they can hope is that the guard will make sure that they don’t fall.

But then one prisoner gathers up their wits and starts trying to find a way out of their cell. All of the other prisoners hear them trying to leave, and they warn them “It’s safer to be watched,” they shout from their own prison cells, “you’ll surely fall if you step too far.”

But the prisoner wants a way out. There’s a whole world outside that they know exists. These walls weren’t meant to hold them forever. So they tiptoe and push the line, finding their way outside.

Only once they get outside, there’s no one watching. No three walls around them and no ceiling above to keep them safe. 

But they’re free. 

“Frei” is a term I heard a lot as a kid, meaning “free”. If someone leaves the religious life, they are called “free”.

Growing up, I always wondered why.

Why do we choose to portray those who have “lost their way” as also being “free”?

Supposedly because they were “free from inhibition and goodness”.

But I understand now. 

Now that I’ve stepped out and am walking out of my panopticon prison, I am free, and it is absolutely terrifying. I don’t see my way. I don’t see my future. 

Everything is open and chaotic.

I was supposed to stay in my prison cell and be who they wanted me to be. Adhere to the 613, be a “good” person in their eyes.

I would get married, have a gaggle of kids, raise them into the covenant of the 613, and be happy.

But in all but a few minutes, everything changed. 

I sat down and discovered that I did not believe that there was a guard in the center keeping me safe. I did not believe that, even if He was there, He was looking out for my best interests.

So I’ve taken the leap of non-faith and stepped out of my cell.

It’s frightening to realize that the guard is either uncaring or not present. 

And after years of being trapped in your cell, most likely since birth, the outside world is overwhelming and terrifying too. 

Who can you trust, if even the great panopticon guard didn’t keep you safe in your cell? 

When you kept to all of the rules, all of the restrictions, kept everyone happy, and you still know that there is danger and hurt that can slip into your cell and harm you.

Knowing the future is underrated.

I knew my future. I knew where I was headed. I was going to decorate my cell in beautiful fabric and furniture, I was going to invite people into my cell (or cells of their own, actually), and I was going to be happy with the beauty within my cell. 

But I was not meant for a prison with three walls, I was not meant for a panopticon guard to silently judge me. 

I was meant to be free. To be frei. 

October 09, 2023 03:25

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Nicki Nance
15:59 Oct 14, 2023

Ah -- a leap of non-faith. Absolutely poetic.


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Luciano Cortese
22:57 Oct 14, 2023

As someone who grew up in an extremely strict religious environment this really spoke to me. To not know where you’re going but at least you’re finally making your own decisions. This is very inspiring, thank you for writing.


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