“Are you sure you can manage the kids?” I ask my mother. She has just arrived from the U.S. and is still stretching her legs that have been cramped in economy class for 12 hours. My husband and I have a wedding in an hour. Mom still hasn’t changed or showered from her flight and she hasn’t had anything to eat. I prepare her a plate of food and pour her a drink. I feel terrible walking out on her like this.
“I’ll be fine,” she says as she sits on the floor and doles out piles of gifts to my squealing children. They don’t even look backwards at us as we prepare to leave. I call a babysitter and ask her to come anyway. “She’ll just keep an eye on the baby,” I tell my mother.
“Go, go,” she says, waving us away with her hand. My kids don’t even see us leaving as their heads are sniffing through the suitcase for stray goodies.
After a beautiful evening out, we come home – it’s nearly midnight. The children are all fed, bathed and sleeping. The dishes are done, the house is spotless and my mother’s bulging suitcases are nowhere to be seen. She sleeps soundly on the couch. And once again I am amazed at her boundless energy in her sixth decade of life.
The next morning, my mother lets us sleep in as she gets six children off to school on her own, dressing them, brushing their teeth, preparing their lunches and then some.
“Not a big deal,” she says. After doing errands with me all morning, she takes the children to Jerusalem for lunch so that I can have some quiet time to work. Later, she takes the older children out for supper and then helps me to put the younger ones to bed. When I sit down to work at ten o’ clock, she sits down beside me, wide eyed and ready for a good shmooze. I hop off my chair in favor of spending time with her.
“I just can’t believe you still have any energy left,” I tell her. “You got off the plane last night and since then you’ve been with the kids non-stop. Aren’t you jetlagged?”
My mother looks at me and shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t do jet-lag,” she says.
“You don’t do jet-lag?”
“Nope,” she says, her blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “I just don’t do it.”
“What does that mean?” I ask her. I reflect on my numerous trips back to the United States throughout my years living here. I trip off the plane with one or more children in tow and I try to keep my eyes open through the ten-minute ride back to my parents’ house.
“I don’t get it. Jet-lag isn’t a thing that you do or you don’t do. It’s just something that happens to you.”
“Nope,” my mother says. “I don’t agree.”
And I realize that this short conversation sums up one quintessential quality that my mother possesses. If there is really a concept of mind over matter, then she has just provided the definition. It’s not that she isn’t tired. She just chooses to put aside her physical discomfort in favor of something even more precious to her: time with her children and grandchildren. And in her choice, the jet-lag miraculously ceases to exist.
When my children infuriate me to, I can just say: “I don’t do that raising my voice thing.”
And if my mother can do it, then maybe I can too. When my neighbor extends her house or redoes her kitchen, or when my friend’s child is succeeding in the same thing that my child struggles with, why can’t I just say: “I don’t do jealousy”?
And when my children infuriate me to the point of no return, I can just say: “I don’t do that raising my voice thing. I just don’t do it.”
And when the friend who never lends me anything wants to borrow my special evening gown, I can just tell myself: “Sorry, as much as I’d like to, I just don’t do revenge.”
Rosh Hashanah & the Power of Free Will
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the first day of the ten days of repentance. This period of the year gives us the opportunity for a fresh slate. We can overcome even the darkest parts of ourselves. Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of mankind, and it is free will that separates humanity from all of the other beings on earth. Our ability to hope, to dream, to grow into whoever we wish to be – that is part and parcel of this momentous day of the year.
But how do we cultivate a desire to change so that it is more than just a vacuous resolution?
When a doctor tells his patient after a heart attack that he has less than a year to live if he doesn’t cut out smoking and implement a regular fitness routine, suddenly he embraces a physical life transformation. He taps into the latent power of utilizing his free will and he quits smoking once and for all. On Rosh Hashanah, we can do this too in the spiritual realm.
Because God has even more authority than any doctor. When we acknowledge that God is the ultimate reality, that doing His will is the avenue to our deepest fulfillment, and running away from Him is self-destructive, we can truly begin to change. And that’s what it means to make God King on Rosh Hashanah. It means choosing to align our will with His will.
All of us can change and start doing more of the things we yearn to do and less of the things we know deep down we don’t want to do. We can change even the things that seem impossible to uproot within ourselves.
Don’t tell me that I can’t. Because I don’t do despair.