Earth Etude for 13 Elul
Swimming on Our Backs
by Rabbi Judy Kummer
All week long, a challenge with a family member plagued me. I stewed over it, allowed it to twist my kishkes into tight knots and my body into a ship tossing on waves of wakefulness in nighttime. I even watched it tug at my mind and heart during long lake swims thru otherwise placid waters. Tears and fresh water mixed, a potent cocktail of sadness.
And then, during one swim at dusk, as I flipped over onto my back to reach into back crawl, I looked up and saw the most glorious sunset spread across the sky. Streaks of orange and purple hung there, jewel-like, so vibrant and real I wanted to stretch my hands out to touch them.
I swam on my back for much longer than usual that evening, not wanting to turn over and miss even a moment of this glory. And remarkably, the strain of my earlier angst was nowhere in my mind. My muscles, my heart, my limbs all felt freed, untangled, if only for a while. I had allowed myself a wonderful gift in being present in that lovely moment.
The emotional challenges in the family persisted for days. At long last, after much discussion, they finally subsided. Throughout this time, the beauty of those jewel-like colors in the sky remained suspended in my memory, a gentle arcing reminder of the benefits of being present and aware.
I found myself wondering and thinking about that gift of presence – of being present – and of the awareness of the Divine Presence that it can lead to.
As we approach the High Holidays, it is incumbent on each of us to do heshbon hanefesh, a spiritual stock-taking, and make rectification where necessary with God, with our fellow human beings and with our deepest selves.
When we are present with our most true selves, there is a greater chance that we can find a way back to reconcile with those with whom we may be in conflict.
I do think that the reconciliation that eventually happened in the family took place because of a deep awareness of the needs of each soul involved. It was only because each of us was willing to be present both to our own soul’s yearnings and to the yearnings and needs of the other that we could finally move beyond our differences. And the sweetness of this reconciled state has a tinge of the holy to it.
When we are willing to stop and tune out the noise that most of us live with, and be present with what is around us and within our hearts in that moment, then, sometimes, we can be graced with a sense of harmony with others and with an awareness of the Divine Presence, the Source and Creator of All.
What a remarkable gift we give to ourselves and to those whom our hearts hold dear.
Rabbi Judy Kummer serves as Executive Director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts, and is an organic gardener and social activist in Boston.
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