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This is the day

Oy vey, what pain I caused myself today!

Last night, I got some stressful news, so I stayed up late trying to rectify it.

Of course, I was so agitated on account of working till nearly midnight that I had trouble sleeping.

That meant that in the morning, I was tired and cranky even after my second cup of coffee. Which was unfortunate, since the schools were closed and I was home with my children.

They did not get the memo informing them that I needed to sleep late and that I would prefer it if things were quiet and peaceful till 10 AM at which point I needed to take a meditative hike by myself.

Instead, we made pancakes and played legos and went to work on a project in the basement. But our circular saw died, our drill bit snapped and we were very frustrated.

In the afternoon, I met up with friends and their two kids and together, we went hiking. However, I neglected to inform my three year old son that the dirt, trees and rocks on the top of the mountain were absolutely and quantitatively better than the dirt, trees and rocks along the trail.

So, while he wanted to explore, or rest, or pick his nose, I kept urging along my son and his three year old buddy, who also thought the dirt, trees and rocks along the trail were worthy of exploration.

"Come on," I kept saying. "My legs are tired and I want to sit on this rock," my son kept saying, implicitly and explicitly.

About three quarters of the way up Mount Beacon, I gave up. My patience had run out, and we headed back down the mountain. Again, my son thought there were dirt, trees and rocks along the trail that were worthy of exploration and again, I urged him on to the bottom, because as we all know, it's the destination, not the journey, that matters.

In the evening, we had dinner with dear friends visiting from Europe. But I was too tired and agitated to enjoy dinner, so I begged off early. If I'm lucky, I'll see them again a year from now.

We cause pain when we borrow trouble from the future and diminish the present. I passed over opportunities to celebrate what was because I was too frustrated about what wasn't. The news that wasn't better, the circular saw that wasn't stronger, the three year old boy that wasn't sufficiently goal oriented. On a hike.

There is a lot to be said for longing for things that aren't. Without that longing, we would have no human achievement, no medicine, no art. We would never achieve goals of any sort - neither noble nor base - if we always accepted what is. As the ancient rabbis put it, "If not for desire, no one would build a house, marry, have children, nor trade." (Bereishit Rabbah 9:7).

Sometimes though, it is the words of the Psalmist that I need to hear. "This is the day that the Holy One has made; rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps 118:24). This day. Not the other day, with the better news and the compliant son. This day. This is the day in which to rejoice.

Of course, that's easier said than done. For many of us - certainly me - recognizing that this day, this aggravating day, is the day in which to rejoice is the work of a lifetime. All the spiritual practices which Torah provides for us - davvening, meditating, shabbat - help orient us to to that reality, but they don't achieve it.

That is why we call it spiritual practice, not spiritual accomplishment. At every moment, we have the choice to celebrate what is or mourn what isn't. Discernment about what are the lacks, the inadequacies to mourn and change and what are the ones to accept and celebrate is the very goal of spiritual practice.

I suppose I have more practice to do.


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