© 2019 by Julie Fingersh. Designed by Aptsites

  • Julie Fingersh

What Would You Do With Nothing? A New Year's Wish.

Whitefish, Montana. Asking us to just be.

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.