“What would constitute a perfect day for you?”
That’s the question I pulled from the mason jar holding 86 such questions, each written on a mini sticky note and then folded over. I named my creation Beyond the Blah Jar.
My new girlfriend Anie had to answer per the rules of Beyond the Blah Jar. She was sitting next to me on the couch, on the middle cushion. We were tired, approaching the end of our March weekend together, but she didn’t hesitate responding. “Today!”
Today, a day she’d spent entirely in my presence, was my new girlfriend’s perfect day? I forced my lips to remain within the boundaries of my face.
We began the day with scrambled eggs and coffee with heavy cream (for me, tea for her). That sated us before we hiked around Claude Moore Park in Sterling, Virginia, and then drank India pale ales at Lake Anne Brew House. Anie’s perfect day was now ending with me, dinner, a movie, and Beyond the Blah Jar.
“Oh wait,” Anie added. Her face held an “aha” expression. “I thought the question asked for a recent perfect day. Did it mean what is my ideal perfect day?”
I laughed. Yes, that was how I took the question, though I wasn’t complaining about Anie’s response to her interpretation of it.
My idea to create Beyond the Blah Jar hit me after attending Even Further Beyond the Tent in February. Anie, I, and some 35 others attended this follow-up to the original Judaism-focused retreat hosted by GatherDC and its former improv comedy-loving, eccentric rabbi. This retreat didn’t lead to increased understanding of my Jewish identity like the original had. Instead, it led me to delve deeper into myself and my relationships with others. Even Further Beyond the Tent taught me it was OK to ask questions.
The jar’s first 36 questions came from a study now known as The 36 Questions That Lead to Love. I didn’t include those to trick Anie into falling for me; I suspected both she and I had already begun sinking. I just happened to have recently read the Modern Love essay referencing the study, and the study just happened to have included questions like:
What is your most treasured memory?
What is your most terrible memory?
If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone?
What a question. My initial thought is that’s a question neither Anie nor anyone else would want to be asked. It leads to too much vulnerability; it’s too hard to create the pulmonary pressure and tongue placement required to verbalize the response we feel is most truthful.
But on second thought, I wonder if part of us wants to be explicitly asked that question because some truths are too hard to reveal to the people we care most about on our own, without the encouragement of Beyond the Blah Jar.
If I were asked that question, maybe I’d say I’d regret not having told my brother that the way he treated me during the years I received and recovered from cancer treatment was perfect, that I wouldn’t have wanted anything from him beyond what he gave, all those days and nights he spent hanging out watching sports and movies with me and carrying on as if little had changed in our lives besides him occasionally having to press pause to empty the contents of my puke bucket into the toilet.
Yes, I think, I may say that if asked that question, but I’m unsure if I could say that outright. I don’t think I could say to him directly, like during a halftime commercial break while watching a Redskins game together, “So, if I were to die, I’d most regret not having told you, ‘Thank you.’”
Yes, sometimes it’s easier to die than to find the courage to reveal a truth openly. Sometimes, we need encouragement. Sometimes, we can only reveal a truth when forced to confront an inquiry from Beyond the Blah Jar.
Once I finished adding the 36 Questions That Lead to Love, I added two of my own questions. I stole the next 12 from Tim Ferriss’s book, Tools of Titans, and pirated StoryCorps for Beyond the Blah Jar’s remaining 36 questions.
StoryCorps’s mission is to record, preserve, and share others’ stories. StoryCorps inspired me to virtualize my jar on occasions when my coffee table with the jar propped on it wasn’t around. For example, when I would visit my parents at their Manassas, Virginia house, the same one in which I grew up.
Four times since then, my parents have answered my questions from my virtual Beyond the Blah Jar, and I audio-recorded them. Mom’s answers included stories about her zayda and where her passion for social work stemmed from. For another question directed at both of them, their answer led to a story about our summer vacations during my childhood. My, how they sacrificed their own passions and joys so my brother and I could pursue and have ours!
Of all their answers to my questions, I most enjoyed the one about how my mom allowed my dad’s parakeet, Felix—who she says always tried biting her, probably out of jealousy for her taking my dad’s attention away from him—to share their residence. That’s young love. She didn’t, however, allow for a replacement Felix once he died.
All those questions and answers are now preserved in Beyond the Blah Cloud Drive (aka Google). I decided to preserve the conversations because I don’t know how much longer my parents will live and I want to always be able to hear them. It’s not that they are terminal; we just don’t know how long anyone will live because health and longevity are privileges, not promises. People tend to carry on just fine, but every once in a while they don’t.
My parents have been married for 44 years. It’s my turn for young love. I don’t take it for granted. We can’t assume people will live, or stay lovers, forever.
Anie realized she likely misinterpreted the way the question was intended to be understood, but she didn’t offer a replacement response. So her day with me was her perfect day…at least, her one perfect day compared to the previous six or so.
I then shared my ideal perfect day, and we returned the folded sticky note to Beyond the Blah Jar, where it awaits my or my guest’s actual or ideal response the next time the note is pulled.
There wasn’t much time left with Anie that weekend. It was getting late. Maybe one plunge into vulnerability each day is enough, so we returned our attention to the comedy we’d begun watching earlier. Laughing with Anie felt so good.
If anything, Beyond the Blah Jar has taught me that if you don’t have both beyond the blah—and some blah—in your life, then you’re not fully living.
About the Author. Benjamin Rubenstein is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! Benjamin is the author of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man books. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. You can subscribe to his quarterly newsletter.
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