Sunday, February 27, 2005

19. Gifts

Yesterday the rabbi talked about the extra soul we're given on Shabbat--and must, sadly, return at the beginning of each week. It enlarges and completes us and, like any other priceless gift, comes with responsibilities. And so we're often afraid to take possession of this jewel for fear of losing it. He wasn't referring to the most obvious reasons why people don't observe Shabbat, the thou shalt not travel or use electricity parts, but rather the commandment to rest--to think--to live quietly and without outside distractions in the world that we've wrought during the other six days, and contemplate how we can make it, or ourselves, better. To confront ourselves for an entire day, a frightening gift.

I understand. I'm reminded of a Nelson Mandela quote that a friend sent me a few years ago on a New Year's card:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are indequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us... You playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the Glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Thankfully, I don't have too many problems with darkness. It's the light that scares me, which has made me blink on those Friday nights when I've stood in front of my community. Or when it moves past Shabbat and starts to illumine the week, as I'm on the 1 train trying to learn the tune that accompanies 5,000-year-old sentences, ignoring the dirt, noise, people who won't put their bags on the floor, a man who hasn't bathed and sticks a cup in my face and I give him change out of guilt, not compassion, and I hate myself--then I look down at my xerox of the tikkun and remember that we're not required to complete the task, only to begin it.

I will always have self-doubt, because I'm human. I want to study more. No, I need to concentrate on the rest of life. This stuff is just icing. You get fat if you eat too much, but it tastes so good. I'm relieved that I share the world with other confused people. I remember the joy of discovering my talent at this strange, ancient skill; I savor the knowledge, down here in the subway tunnel. It's harder to do when I go upstairs into the real sunlight.

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