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Muted pastels climbed sluggishly into the sky that morning, pale pinks and periwinkles barely peeking through the marine layers of Imperial Beach. It was the kind of morning ideal for lounging in pajamas. And yet as dawn shed its light, I found my arms flailing and my lungs gasping for the breath that continued to elude me, numbed body submerged in the seemingly arctic temperatures of the Pacific Ocean. My mom, completely in character, had signed the whole family up for the Surf Town Triathlon, and we were the only ones in the entire race without wetsuits. Despite the inherently comical piece of shell-art that sits on our kitchen countertop and boasts that “Second place is okay!” my parents have cultivated in my brothers and me a strong work ethic of trying your hardest, doing your best and ‘no pain no gain’. They have raised us in a supportive home, with a healthy dose of “tough love”. The combination of support and firmness has helped to foster within me the comforting knowledge that my family is backing me one hundred percent.
My family’s mantra of resilience has been passed down through generations, stemming from my Russian immigrant roots. We grew up with the story of our 14 year old great-grandfather, a Jew in anti-Semitic Russia, who hid in a pickle barrel to avoid the slaughter while a Pogrom burned his village down. Like so many immigrants who had the great fortune of escaping strife to arrive at Ellis Island and start over, my great grandfather – and in fact , all eight of my great grandparents – worked from the bottom up, struggling to provide for their families the opportunities and education never granted to them. Their determination paved the way for my much more privileged reality. Here I am, the fruit of their labor, the daughter of two physicians, with every basic need fulfilled, raised in a world of possibilities.
As I make my way through the world, I must reflect on my roots, the sacrifices that were made. I must remember the traditions and faith that unite us. And I must use this knowledge of my past to pursue meaning in the present and future, to make the struggles of my ancestors worthwhile. Suffering fleetingly in the icy ocean is good for endurance, good for reflection – because hardship, however small, can inspire you forward.
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