What Would You Do With Nothing? A New Year's Wish.
It pinged into my email inbox with a wink. An invitation to write about the value of doing nothing.
Huh? I thought. What do I know about this?
At 80 years old, my father still worked like a crazy man. My mom would rather skin herself than take a nap.
In our house, I learned that sloth, not death, is the enemy.
Who are these people who sit around on benches eating ice cream? Who are these people who do lunch? Take the day to play and relax with nothing to show for it?
Who are these people who walk slowly, do crossword puzzles, make themselves omelets instead of stuffing something down and getting on with it?
For the first part of my life, I swallowed it whole:
This is what we do:
We do, all day long
We do, because that’s the point
That’s how we matter.
I am 12. I wake up at 530 a.m. to study for math quizzes.
I am 18. I cannot sleep because it’s time to launch my career.
I am 23. Right on track, I’m a journalist in New York City, living from deadline to deadline.
I live in one of the greatest cities on earth; I’ll enjoy it some other time.
Do I have to work so hard? Well, yeah. That’s who I am.
I am 31. I have a new baby. I quit my job because I am afraid. I’m afraid I won’t have the discipline to stop working and pay attention to what, at least in my heart, I know matters more.
I know what you’re thinking: that woman’s got a problem. Sure I do. That’s why they asked me to write about this and not you. But maybe, as an extreme form of you, we share something.
I stepped off a track I was raised on. Suddenly I didn’t “work.” I was one of those stay-at-home moms — secret shame — who didn’t work. Traded an office and a byline and strategic plans and board presentations for diapers and bottles and sitting in a circle singing songs with babies on our laps.
But gradually, something started whispering to me.
Lying in bed next to my baby
Breathing in her baby milk breath
I looked at her tiny hand
The teeny fingers, the creases, the little dab of nail at the top
Wrapped around my tanned lined thumb
I looked into those pure blue eyes
And they looked into mine
And I saw something there that had eluded me
They told me something I had never heard before
It’s so hard to stay there and listen to what’s being whispered, isn’t it? To allow our souls to receive something unspeakably whole. Given to us just for being there, because we stopped?
When will we allow ourselves to know
What we always know, what I knew even in that moment?
There is magic for all of us in the moment, whether we notice or not
There was magic there with me in that bed,
That moment so fleeting
knowing that that baby’s hand would be gone so soon
Grown into something else
And even knowing that, knowing that,
Still fighting the devilish compulsion to deny it,
Dumb that moment down, turn my heart away from the heartbreak of
what is lost in every moment, holy and fleeting in that very moment,
Glance at the clock, think about all that needed to be done....
Now that baby is 21
Now I know how to savor better, savor more
But still, I am learning, I am sliding, I am learning
Holidays are a gift.
A permission to stop and remember:
This is our life.
This is your life.
No one is going to tell you to stop.
Every little ping of an email
The ring of your cell phone
The siren call of your lists
They thread you down to base impulse
Enslave you to the high of closing endless loops
Do you know the story of Moses?
How the bush burned but was not consumed?
And the miracle was that he noticed.
The bushes burn all around us
They burn in the beauty of the wind in the trees, the light on the hills,
the rise and fall of death and life all around, miracles whispering at our senses, all around
They burn in the way time passes without a sound
Taking with it chance after chance after chance after chance
To begin again
There they are, bushes burning right there next to the endless buzz of the everyday,
Burning and burning, whispering the chance, from our deepest soul
Maybe even from God
The chance to choose––
Yes, there it is, all there for the taking
And all there for the losing too
Which will it be today?
On this day, God,
I am grateful for the wisdom and clarity that comes with age
I ask you to help me
To choose still better this year
Help me––help us––remember again to choose right
And then, each time we fall back
Into the glaze of the endlessly blinking demands, the impossibly long lists that beg
Help us remember again.
Let the children keep reminding us
Let the sick and dying remind us
The trees and sun and seasons and wind remind us
Help us to leverage everything we have to give
only for what matters in the end
Help us see the burning bushes
More and more
Again and again
Help me choose
Help us choose
Help us all choose.
I wish for all of you, beloved friends and family, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, a good and joyous and healthy new year.