When I was young, my parents would take my siblings and me on long car rides to visit relatives out-of state. One of our favorite songs to sing on those rides was: “The ants go marching one-by-one, hoorah, hoorah!…” When we played outside, we loved watching ants climb into their colonies, busy with their work. The ants fascinated me.

I was not quite so fascinated with ants, however, these past few weeks, as they took over my kitchen. At first, there were just a few, scurrying over the counter and near the sink. I set traps. I sprayed. Nothing helped. The situation became so bad that I realized I had to call in the exterminator.

He sprayed the entire exterior of the house and then the inside: the kitchen, upstairs, the bathrooms, and I thought I was finished (although he did tell me to call him back in two weeks if I still had a problem).

And then after two weeks, “the ants go marching one-by-one…” Just as I was preparing for a dinner  party, I went to my floor-to-ceiling pantry, and I realized that I had floor-to-ceiling ants. Everywhere. Crawling up the walls. On the ceiling. In the pantry. Everywhere. And not “one-by-one” but by the thousands! A million times worse than before. It was as if they thought THEY had been invited to the party! And my guests were coming in five hours! Eek! I still had a lot of cooking to do. OY! How was I every going to get it all done?!

I called the exterminator again in a panic. Left a message. Started to empty the pantry. Thankfully he called back right away and said he could come that same day. But I did have to empty the entire pantry and a few other cupboards.

Thankfully, my food was not infested. But I was thinking, how am I going to pull off getting this dinner ready? I now had the contents of my entire pantry on my dining room floor, table and in parts of the kitchen.

And then I realized, just breathe.

BreatheNo one was sick. No one was hurt. It wan’t an emergency. My house looked like a mess, but if I took a minute to just breathe, I would find a way to get everything finished.

So I breathed, slowly — in and out. I reviewed my list of what I was serving. I prepared each item one at a time. I ignored the mess on the floor. I found things that needed to be thrown away that had been sitting in the cupboard for too long.

The exterminator came. I finished prepping. I even had time to put everything away and clean up the kitchen before my guests arrived. I just didn’t have time to change my clothes, but it was okay.

And I sat down with my guests and just relaxed. And breathed and enjoyed being with them in my serene backyard.

My situation with the ants comes at a time on our Jewish calendar when we are also supposed to metaphorically “breathe”. This coming Saturday evening, we usher in the Hebrew month of Elul. This is the month that immediately precedes our High Holy Days. We’re supposed to slow down, breathe in, breathe out. We’re supposed to stop rushing around trying to “get it all done.”

During this time we review our own lists: how was our past year? What went well? What could have been better? What relationships can we improve? To whom do we need to say “I am sorry?” Do we have excess “stuff” that we’ve been carrying around for too long that we can/should “throw away” or let go?

How do we prepare our own souls, our own selves, so when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do arrive next month we are spiritually, emotionally and physically ready for all they entail?

If we stop, take the time to breathe, reflect and think, we can enter these Days of Awe refreshed, renewed, and with full intention of heart, mind and spirit.

Kol ha’n’shamah t’haleil Yah, hal’lu Yah!

Let all that breathes praise God, Halleluya! (Psalm 150:6)