By Rabbi Rachel Esserman
I am not particularly adventurous. When I was young, friends would suggest a questionable activity and try to convince me to go along by asking, “Why not?” I would answer, “Sorry, I want a good reason for doing it.” Years later, I read a science article that suggested people interested in extreme activities like bungee jumping have high adrenaline thresholds, meaning it’s difficult for them to feel excited unless they do something very scary. That made me laugh because I figure I must have the world’s lowest adrenaline threshold. Tell me that an author I like has a new book coming out and the excitement – sometimes even accompanied by singing and dancing – begins.
However, when thinking about this recently, I realized that it’s life’s quiet moments that speak most to me. Let me give you an example: during my chaplaincy work this past summer, a group of us – staff and individuals – sat in the courtyard on a warm, summery day. There was music playing in the background and very little talking. As I sat there, an emotion came over me that is hard to describe as anything other than peaceful contentment. During that moment, there was nothing I wanted or needed: life felt complete and joyous. My great fortune was to recognize that moment when it was occurring. In fact, when it was time to leave, I did so wishing I could have remained there until the end of the day.
Recently I’ve been reviewing peaceful moments with my mother that occurred in the last year of her life. Facebook offers memories of our time together: although I am wearing a mask, you can see my mother’s face – her smile reflects happiness and contentment in the fact we were together. We didn’t always need to talk: just being in the same room reminded us of how much we cared for each other. Life before the nursing home had not been that much different: my mom would nap or watch TV, and I would read. It’s not that we didn’t talk, but, as she declined, it was harder and harder to have a real conversation. But smiling and talking about favorite memories created a time and space where we could connect. It’s so easy to take moments like these for granted; we need to remember and cherish them.
I’ve also experienced this with friends, many times over a cup of tea or coffee. We don’t have to be doing anything other than sitting, sometimes talking, sometimes just enjoying each other’s company. Now I love talking: discussions about life or books form a major portion of my interactions with people, but there is also something wonderful about the pauses that take place in those discussions.
Judaism has blessings for a great many actions we perform or wondrous things we see. While there is no specific, formal rabbinic blessing for the kind of moments I’m writing about, there is no reason we can’t offer one of our own: blessing God for the quiet moments, the connections we make during those times and the gratitude that we can recognize them when they occur.
Grand adventures are wonderful. I have no problem with them and have had several of my own over the years. However, those of us who are now less likely to venture across the globe should try to appreciate the quieter moments we can garner on an ordinary day – taking a pause in our busy lives to look around us and note the beauty we find there if only we open our eyes to see it.