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Shabbat. The Constant Among the Chaos

We made it another week. We found solace in ordinary things. Opened the windows, let the fresh air inside. White flowers burst on a dogwood tree, a red Cardinal bird perched on a branch hidden among the blossoms, contrasting with the color of the bright blue sky. Sidewalk chalk drawings of purple and pink hearts decorate a driveway. Everybody waving to each other, six feet apart.

We have a new routine for when Scott gets home from a long day of work at his food distribution company where he makes sure a chain of grocery stores are stocked with non-perishables, even single rolls of toilet paper. As soon as he walks in the door, he strips down to his undies, throws his clothes in the washing machine, pets our dog Beau who excitedly greets him with wagging tail and kisses, and finally showers before we spread out at the big round kitchen table and eat dinner together. We talk. We breathe. We drink warm water (supposedly one of the many remedies to lessen the chance of getting sick, who knows). Afterwards, if it’s not already dark, we take Beau for a walk.

The days are filled with a juxtaposition of energy and emotion. One moment we live in fear and uncertainty, with an obsessive focus on ourselves and family. And the next moment, we live with laughter, hope, and a hunger to help others who are suffering far worse.

Meanwhile thoughts are scattered, jetting from normalcy to panic. I drag the trash can up the driveway, then scrub my hands in the bathroom sink.  Open the mailbox and carry in the envelopes without opening them, virus lives on paper, cardboard, surfaces for several days. Empty grocery bags outside on the porch wearing latex gloves, then wipe the almond milk carton with Clorox wipes before putting in fridge. Gas pump, grocery store, dread. Normal, not normal.

For me, days are filled with: Writing. Blogging. Reading. Sharing. Social Media. Journaling. Cooking. Working. Feeding. Learning. Helping. Always helping. Praying. Worrying. Trusting. Laughing. Worrying, again. Cleaning door knobs, faucets, kitchen counter. Being Grateful. Feeling healthy and strong. Questioning every cough. Walking the dog. Aromatherapy baths. Hiking. Snacking. Donating money. Breathing. Laundry. Music. Making banana bread. Other families juggling roles, homeschooling, working from home, parenting…I’m thankful to be an empty nester and my kids are young adults, and with that age comes new concerns.

Mind racing. Washing hands and wrists, red, raw, chafed. Dry with paper towel. Wiping. Sanitizing. Spraying. Cleaning. Trying to be uncontaminated, seems impossible. Making coffee. Walking dog. Everyday, more bad news. Sleeping, awake in the middle of the night. Breathing.

Zoom. Virtual Torah classes, conferences, Seders, happy hours, exercise. Google classroom. Shipt. Instacard. Curb-side pickup and deliveries, from steak dinner and a bottle of wine, to dog food and groceries. Restaurants desperate. Out of business.

Take a break. Watch Schitt’s Creek, Ellen reruns, or Jimmy Fallon Home Edition, or a live streamed concert with John Legend who performs in his living room and sings songs requested by Instagram viewers, while his wife Chrissy Teigen sits on his piano and is wrapped in a towel and turban. Normal, not normal. So far, I have not broken into the box of See’s chocolate that I saved in the freezer, for an emergency. This is not an emergency, yet.

Respirators, ventilators, PPEs, life support. Dying alone. No shiva. Covid-19. Cries, fear, isolation. Elderly alone in nursing homes. Children can’t play with their friends or go to school.   Teens party on Florida beaches. Entitled. Mellinials, invincible, think about themselves. Selfish. Stupid. Spread disease. Global pandemic.

China, Italty, France, New York City, Seattle, Boston, New Orleans, Chicago. Virus coming closer. Now us. New epicenter each day.

#StayHome. #InThisTogether #WashHands #DontTouchYourFace

Quarantine. Flatten the curve. Isolation. Shelter in place. Martial law. Lockdown. National Guard.

Social distance. Test kits. Travel ban. Borders close. Vacations, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, all postponed. Broadway shows cancelled.

Shortage of masks, gowns, gloves, hospital beds, ventilators….soon, shortage of health care workers.

Asthma. Immune compromised. Sore throat. Fever. Shortness of Breath. Headache. Weak.

Makeshift hospitals in parking garages, warehouses, battle ships. Politics. 2 trillon dollar stimulus package. Economy. Layoffs. Unemployed. Despair. No insurance. Paid sick leave.  Cruise ships, airlines, bailout. Health care, economy. Recession, depression.

Doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, trucker drivers, mail carriers, Amazon warehouse workers, pharmacists, police, fire fighters, first responders, ambulance drivers,  volunteers, religious leaders, supermarket employees, trash collectors, veterinarians, teachers, parents,  shoppers, everyday people sustaining lives. Heroes.

As Shabbat comes upon us, we notice more contrasts. The work week is tense, uptight. And although the world remains chaotic, Shabbat brings peace, sanity, closer to God. Still aware of all the suffering around us. A much needed day of rest, a break from the blaring headlines.

From sundown to stars out, we take a break from the noise. We release the past week–its fears, its sorrows. We free oursleves of any misgivings, regrets. We soak in this sacred time, this gift from God, right here and right now. Every Shabbat, my son and I read the Torah portion, this week is Vayikra, which is about sacrifices. We all make sacrifices for our fellow human kind right now. We talk about the lessons, the meaning as we walk on the nature trail and soak up the sun and Vitamin D, holding our breath as people ride their bikes and jog past us.

It’s Shabbat. We disconnect to connect, and we recharge. We need it. God is calling us.

In a time of facing the unknown, one thing we know is constant. Shabbat. We have permission to do nothing.  We take time to be Grateful. We breathe in and out.

What’s our purpose during this worldwide crisis? Everyone has a purpose. How much excess, how much stuff, do we really need? We take care of our own, and we do what we can to help the greater good. Doing good is what heals us.

Whenever we wash our hands, remember whose hand we are in.

On this Shabbat, we create Shalom Bayit, “a house of peace.”  In a world that feels unsafe outside–to date, the COVID-19 outbreak has claimed more than 20,000 lives and infected more than 500,000– Shabbat brings light into the darkness. On Shabbat, we bring comfort and safety into our home. The challah is soft and chewy on the inside. The crust is crunchy, savory instead of sweet tonight. We don’t tear the bread like we usually do. Jack cuts a slice, we grab a piece at the end of the knife. Try not to touch each other’s food.  Eat. Taste. Drink wine. Breathe. Pray. Love. Heal.

It’s storming outside, we watch the show of flashes and cracks of lightning in the night sky, thunderous applause, rain drenches the backyard, more puddles, soaking the willow tree, sounds like hail banging on the pergola.  Ahhh the smell and sound of rain always pleases. Mother Nature in charge. God rules. We chill out. Concerned about those who don’t have shelter in the storm. Where do the homeless go? This the last thing they need to worry about. Sick patients in ICU, on ventilators, oblivious to the rainstorm outside, fighting to stay alive, all alone. Heartbreaking. Helpless. We can pray. This Shabbat, we add the prayer Mi Shebeirach, everyone knows someone who needs healing.

The white Shabbat candles are burning down, we watch the wick flickering in the glass candlestick holders.  Sipping hot lavender tea before bed. Grateful. Shabbat.

In these days of uncertainty and panic, the Hebrew prayers we say on Shabbat bring us comfort, familiarity, as they are the same ones that sustained our ancestors and allowed them to survive in their own times of despair, fear, and isolation.

Shalom Aleichem, “Peace Be Upon You.” Birkat Hayeladim, “Blessing the Children,” Kiddush (blessing over wine), Netilat Yadaim (hand washing), Hamotzi (blessing over bread), Birkat Hamazon, “Grace After Meal.” And before we say goodbye to Shabbat on Saturday night, we do a brief and beautiful Havdalah ritual, using all our senses as we drink from a cup of wine, pass around a spice box of cinnamon and cloves , and light a multi-wicked candle to remind us how our physicial and spiritual lives are intertwined and how our busy separate selves come together on Shabbat.

And God willing, as we enter another week, we are alive, strong, healthy, purposeful. Still laughing. Grateful. Breathing easily, in and out. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom!