The other day, someone asked me what I did after graduating high school, after I had informed them that I didn’t immediately go to college. Times were a tad different in the summer of 1998.
After high school, I suffered from crippling shyness. I couldn’t speak to someone if you paid me to. Back then, I lived in the shadow of my own reflection.
In August 1998, I was on a plane with three close friends from San Diego to meet our group for our Schnat Achshara trip — where we would live in Israel for the next 12 months. My San Diego group was to join the Jewish community from Mexico in Tel Aviv. Strangers in a strange land.
What felt like an endless flight approached Ben Gurion Airport and I remember growing more and more anxious about meeting these new people. I went to the tiny El Al airplane bathroom and locked myself inside. I splashed water on my face and stared at two very terrified blue eyes. “What is wrong with you?” I remember asking myself. The lone voice inside my head answered, “I don’t know.” Dejected, I returned to my seat as the plane made its final approach.
We landed in Tel Aviv midday and met with our group, which consisted of five other girls and one other boy. The four of us from San Diego brought the total to ten. Ten 18-year-olds ready to begin a trip of a lifetime. And I couldn’t break out of my shell. Every girl was cuter than the next. And I, well, I was not. Pudgy. Pale. Pimply. I wanted to just run back home. Go back to my mom. Something secure. Something I knew well. But I couldn’t. I beleaguered got on our bus, destination: Kibbutz Shamir, approximately two hours to the north.
On the bus, each one of my San Diego friends chose a girl to sit with. I chose to sit alone. I put on my yellow Sony discman (if under the age of 30 go ask your mom what a discman was) and listened to a song by one of my favorite local bands. The lyric to this particular song has an interesting chorus…”and I gotta believe there’s nothing wrong with me…” this lyric repeated…and repeated. It was as if the lead singer got into that bathroom on the plane and answered that question I had asked. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I gotta believe there’s nothing wrong with me.”
I remember tearing up hearing this song on our bus drive north. I found my answer. My trip had already been a success even if it was only a couple hours in.
I lived in Israel for twelve months. I had the time of my life. I made incredible friendships, and even more incredible memories. I got my first girlfriend. And lost my first girlfriend. I had coffee thrown in my face by an angry Israeli and I almost froze to death on cold Jerusalem streets all because I went to a foam party on Christmas Eve. I made mistakes and learned from them. I grew up. I became a man. All because of a question answered. A boy became something more. Something proud. Someone that today knows for a fact absolutely nothing is wrong with him.