Sunday, August 13, 2006

359. Casements of the eastern sky

One of my favorite sections of the Shabbat morning service comes right after the Barechu, the call to prayer and the beginning of the series of blessings that leads to the Shema:

All creatures praise You, all declare: "There is none holy as the Lord." All exalt You, Creator of all, God who daily opens the gates of the heavens, the casements of the eastern sky, bringing forth the sun from its dwelling place, the moon from its abode, illumining the whole world and its inhabitants whom You created with mercy...

I grew up in an apartment which--in its heyday, until I was about ten--was the very model of a modern apartment. My parents were neither wealthy nor particularly materialistic, but my mother (who once studied to be an interior designer) was style-conscious in a sensible way. She wore pantsuits when it was still considered a little risqué, and reupholstered every few years to make sure the sofa blended nicely with the new wall colors she hired cousin Morris from Canada to paint. She bought shoes that weren't expensive but never fell apart, and looked like what they sold at Saks. And so I always thought that everything we owned and everywhere we went were the best possible things to have and do; my mother had a knack for making even the smallest choices seem special and elegant.

Our apartment faced a big, green garden, in the middle of which grew two trees: the Tallest Tree In The World, and the Second-Tallest. The Tallest Tree, which extended far above the sixth floor, the very top of the building, was right outside our kitchen. I loved to sit on the windowsill and look for robins in its branches, or try to see past all the leaves into people's apartments on the other side of the garden. The best thing about this window, however--and all the windows in our 4 1/2 rooms--was the little crank that allowed it to open sideways. We had casement windows, my mother explained, much better than the old-fashioned double-hung kind. (What everyone drew when they drew pictures of houses: window = a square with a cross in the middle of it.) Only the best buildings had casement windows, which let you achieve just a crack of coolness with a flick of the wrist. (Never mind that in my bedroom you had to ply the hinge with a gallon of WD-40 before it would even budge. It was still, in theory, the Best Window In The World.)

When I left home and went out on my own, I encountered nary a single casement. I knew, of course, that no windows could ever achieve the quality of what I had as a kid. So when I read the above paragraph in the liturgy, I understood immediately that God loved me and had my best interests at heart. Why else would He have chosen casements for the sky?

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