Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hitting snooze on my wake-up call

When I heard about the bus bombing, I was entertaining a house full of children—my three and two neighbors. Well, it wasn’t that entertaining. Except when the two youngest started wailing and I got out a couple of one-eyed Steiff puppets to sing a classic Israeli children’s song about a rodent who leaves the door open and catches a virus (how Jewish is that?). That was one of my finer moments that afternoon. Mostly, I was periodically settling toy disputes and doling out snacks and then shooing everyone back into the nursery because I don’t like noise.

Noise. I heard the explosion. We lived in another neighborhood in Jerusalem a few years ago, before we made aliyah—there were a lot of bombings then. The boom and the sirens . . . then more sirens . . . everyone knew what that meant.

But things have been so quiet until recently. And now we live in the noisy center of town. And there have been firecrackers and fireworks going off all month for Purim. So I didn’t register the explosion. My friend called me and told me there had been a bombing by the Central Bus Station. My stepfather called and put my mom on the phone. They live in Arizona, were just waking up to the news. “How close is that to your house?” they wanted to know.

Very close.

I wanted to sit and say tehilim, but one of our guests, the little one, wanted a drink. And her sister was looking for a toy phone that I’d last seen floating around the master bathroom (why not). And my girls were not sharing so gracefully. And I was in the middle of putting away the laundry.

I wanted to set it all aside and connect with God, pray for the wounded and pray for peace. Pray that there wouldn’t be casualties and that our family would be safe. And then I had a moment of clarity, of absolute centeredness. There were many people who would hear the news and take out their tehilim, but there was no one else to take care of these children and this home. That was on me alone.

So instead of saying psalms, I dedicated each victory, each tiny act of building and positivity to the merit of the victims. I gave little N. a drink of water (“Hashem I want to be close to you and do Your will”). I found the toy for Y.S. (“Please heal the victims of the attack”). I validated Y.B.’s desire to snatch her toys away from her friends and helped her move past that into sharing (“Let there be peace”). When the kids were in a calmer space, I told them about the attack in an age-appropriate way, and we prayed together.

Ramchal says in Mesilat Yesharim that there are things we all know and value, goals we desire for ourselves, but we don’t even recognize them when they cross our path. We are distracted and we miss the details. We are lazy, so we don’t grab opportunities.

This is so true for me. I wrote about valuing the time I have with my children, knowing that it could always be cut short. That was in theory—then the horror of Itamar brought it home. Last week, all I wanted was to be restored to health and functioning so I could care for my family. And I am doing much better and I am so grateful. But I am back to distraction, resentment and procrastination. My old friends.
There are two classically Jewish responses to tragedy, and they often work in tandem. When suffering happens to someone else, we are supposed to take care of them and meet their needs—send over casseroles or a field clinic, depending on the scale. When we ourselves are afflicted, or when the Jewish people as a whole are threatened, we are meant to use it as a wake-up call, an opportunity to become the people we might be.

I feel like my spiritual alarm clock has been ringing and ringing for months, and I’ve been hitting snooze. A tragedy in my hometown took the life of a classmate and injured a family friend. I’ve been sick and hurt and sick and hurt over and over until it is just exhausting and I don’t even go into crisis mode anymore, I just keep plugging along. Israel was rocked by a horrific attack, and now the bombing. And globally, Japan, oh Japan. Am I missing anything?

To the suffering around me, I have been responding as I think I should—with money and advocacy and prayers. But I know that these jolts and my own annoying series of mundane illnesses are also invitations to improve my behavior and become a better person, to be who I was created to be. But it’s haaaaaaard. And every time I feel better or a calm period occurs, I get complacent and want to revert to habit and comfort and pleasure. And then I feel overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead of me, the gulf between my goals and my reality.

(As an aside to anyone who is unfamiliar with the nuances of theodicy that I’m referencing, I just want to clarify that I don’t believe that God brings about events because I can never get around to starting my Shabbat cooking sufficiently early, or something. We can’t really fit our brains around God’s at all. Rather, everything I experience or become aware of is an opportunity to examine my own deeds. Okay? Okay.)

Where have I meandered off to here? Ah—okay, the victory. The victory is the clarity I experienced in those moments after the bombing, when I wanted to respond in an explicitly ritualistic way, and instead found a way to channel my little tasks and struggles into a spiritual process.

We are approaching Nisan, the time of personal and national reinvention. I heard from Rebbetzin Heller today that this transformation is effected through humility: setting aside my desires and aligning my actions with God’s vision for me. Where I want to go from here is to recognize that choice in front of me in everything that I do, and have the courage to make the right decision.


Mama Wass said...

Beautifully-written, Chaya. I hope you and your family -- along with the rest of klal Yisrael -- stay safe.

Pamela Treiber Opper said...

Simply said, sweet heart: You make a mother proud. Lovely piece of writing and profound thoughts.

faith/emuna said...

you write beautifully. i find your posts very comforting. glad you are feeling better. pls take care of yourself, the yetzer hara has lots of disguises, and you have 3 little kids and pesach around the corner. maybe in addition to preparing for shabbat earlier you can make one less dish? i would concentrate on ways to improve that dont take up too much time or strength, and that dont stress you out. good luck.

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