Avram and I stayed in a 100-year old carriage house over Shabbat, sharing our cozy accommodations with four gentle bay horses at a bed and breakfast in central western Pennsylvania. We were upstairs, the horses downstairs.
The planks that made up the walls of our room were from an abandoned old barn that had stood several miles away. Our ceiling was held up by an 8-inch square, hand-hewn support beam taken from an old dance hall. This was Heinz territory and the dance hall - we were told - was built and operated for the weekend entertainment of the young women who worked in the local factories. (This tale of social responsibility and humanistic business practices seems to be borne out today. Heinz has a whole section on its website touting its commitment to sustainable practices. Kudos for this.)
The carriage house and stable were in the middle of 35 acres of meadow; hayfields of knee-high alfalfa, timothy and oat grass; and dense woods. I saw my first shagbark hickory tree in those woods. Even for a novice like me it was not hard to pick out. The bark hung in long strips with the bottoms slightly curled up, looking for all the world like an unruly column of hair. (Think Mr. Snuffleupagus, for you Sesame Street fans.) The ground was strewn with telltale hickory nuts.
We were on the high ground in this notoriously and seductively hilly area, with nothing between us and the sky for miles around. We were able to witness sunrise and sunset from beginning to end from the vantage point of our carriage house. One whole day’s worth of sunlight, watching the sun as it watched over us.
There is something humbling about the daily, effortless advance of the sun; the constant, quiet progress it makes hitching itself ever higher in the sky until it is impossibly close to the very apex of the heavens. And then, when it has proven its point, lowering itself, with gentle, feigned modesty, just a hint of pride shining through, to its appointed rendezvous with the waiting, patient, understanding horizon.
To be aware of the transit of the sun, of the passage of the hours, of the earth’s ever-falling trajectory through space, and feeling a part of this stunning choreography, is to live just a bit grander, if ever-so-briefly.
We were in Pennsylvania for my daughter’s college graduation. To us, of course, she is like the sun, buoyant and graceful, lighting up our lives. Sunday, we watched her as intently as we had watched the sun. From moment to moment, we were in awe of her ascent to womanhood, her moment of celebrated achievement, and her move away from us to the waiting, patient call of tomorrow.
This exquisite pairing of awareness of daughter and sun reminded us that there were too many days that came and went over the cluttered years without a single celebration, a quiet cheer, or even one simple hurray. There were too many days when we did not notice the brilliance of our daughter, and other loved ones, as they made they way through our earth-bound heavens.
No matter how hard we try, that is just the way life is lived.
But I am grateful for the confluence of this past weekend’s hilltop retreat and life’s commencement, for it momentarily cleared away the quotidian bramble and debris that obscure the constant, if overlooked, sources of warmth and light that fill our days.
That seems a fitting run up to Shavuot. Last night we counted the last of 49 days. Tonight we celebrate. Each night, for the past seven weeks, we counted each day. Each day according to its number; each day remembered for its uniqueness; each day celebrated for itself. No day overlooked (hopefully!).
This counting is good. It reminds us how hard it is to remember the mundane; how easy to forget. But that is what we are asked to do: Notice and remember. Whether today is a Tuesday, rainy, boring, graduation or your birthday, it is here, noteworthy and unforgettable.
That is a good spiritual discipline to carry forward as best we can even after the holiday.
Hag Sameah - have a wonderful Shavuot.