First, I wrote this in my head as I washed the morning’s dishes. Then, I left a purple, plastic IKEA cup in the sink as a token to my commitment to writing it down and to consider whether or not these were words I wanted to share. I’ve gotten used to private contemplation this summer. I’ve adjusted to thinking thoughts and then letting them go.
This has been the summer of slow: of washing the morning’s dishes; scraping and sweeping up Cocoa Pebbles off the ceramic kitchen tiles; straightening the throw pillows on the couch again; hanging pool towels on the line. There have been days when I wanted to scream, when I wished for salvation in the form of a plane ticket to Philadelphia paid for by my mother. There have been days I’ve feebly attempted to convince my 12 year old to wake up before 11 so we can spend a morning off the kibbutz doing “something,” but he’s never acquiesced and I’ve never pushed it.
It is August now, and we’ve done nothing, he and I. It is August, and we’re closer now to the end of the summer than the beginning.
However, this “nothing” we’ve done is an intentional nothing. It is a nothing we knew from the start we were choosing to spend our summer doing. My son is six months into a program at Assaf HaRofeh hospital, in which we are trying to desensitize him from a life-threatening peanut allergy he’s had since he was two. The protocol for this program requires my pre-teen son to ingest at-home portions of peanuts that the allergists (in a hospital setting) deemed safe for him. My son has to be at rest for a half hour before each dose and for two hours after. Two doses each day means my typically active, athletic son needs to remain sedentary for anywhere between 3 ½ – 4 ½ hours each day. The protocol also requires parental observation during these hours in case of symptoms or reactions to the dose of peanut he has eaten.
I am that parent. I am the person observing.
* * *
When I was a girl, summers were fast. The fastest of any season. Summers were spent at day camp and then, the summer I turned ten, at overnight camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Pennsylvania, later in Maine.
I never wanted the summer to end; not even the summer all of my best friends in the bunk were on the Green team during Color War, and I the lieutenant of White, the summer Laura kissed my boyfriend and nobody thought it was wrong but me. Even that summer, I wanted it to be July forever, because August meant I would soon be heading back home, back to my cozy bedroom with the lavender carpet spotted in places by benzoyl peroxide, back to air conditioned-cars and cable television. Back to a certain kind of comfort, but far away from an inner ease I realize now I only ever felt at camp.
It troubled my parents how hysterical they found me at the designated pick-up spot where the camp bus dropped me off. They wanted me to be as joyful and relieved at my return as they were. They were embarrassed by the tears that fell from my face into a personal pan pizza atop the bleached booth table at Pizza Hut. If they had asked me — and I vaguely remember them asking me once — “Why are you crying?” I wouldn’t have known how to express the awareness that I was more ‘me’ at camp. That camp felt more “real.”
* * *
There was an exact point in time last month during which I stopped resisting the summer of slow, stopped the bitter flow of resentment I aimed at Israel for being so hot, at Hannaton for being so boring, at my husband for being able to travel out of the country for work, at my local friends for snapping up last-minute deals to Bulgaria, at my Jerusalem friends for having poetry readings and film festivals to attend.
That point occurred exactly 23 days ago; and only in retrospect, I see it happened by choice. I was on Facebook, grimacing again at the photos posted of other people’s children enjoying the Fourth of July Carnival at overnight camp, when an acquaintance of mine posted a link to a 21-day meditation challenge sponsored by the celebrity guru duo, Oprah and Deepak. I’m not a big fan of either, but I’ve always liked a challenge, and furthermore, I’ve seen positive results in taking on difficult, but healthful practices — eliminating sugar from my diet, for instance — only when I’ve continued regularly for three weeks. It’s a magic number somebody else made up, not me. But three weeks works.
I completed the mediation challenge. I meditated every day for 21 days. I meditated yesterday, too. Today even, 23 days later.
And what I discovered, I believe, through the meditation practice, was how to enjoy this summer of slow. How to find moments of grace in the scraping up of Cocoa Pebbles off the kitchen floor. How to be, dare I say, grateful for the washing of the dishes, for the hanging of the pool towels.
I don’t mean grateful in the easy way: the way one is momentarily grateful in comparison to the suffering of others. Grateful that I am well enough to walk with my children up to the community pool each afternoon in the stifling heat, for instance. Grateful that we even have a community pool, when others don’t. Grateful that my husband is gainfully employed so I have flexibility to freelance from home and observe my son this summer. Grateful for a son, for my two other children.
I mean grateful in a way that, for me at least, is hard on a daily basis: Hard to practice, hard to maintain, and even harder to describe.
I mean an ongoing kind of gratitude: for the summer of slow, for the moments I’ve had to be alone with the mundane, with inactivity, with repetition and boredom; but also with my neuroses, my fears, my uncertainty. Just me, myself, and uninterrupted nothingness.
Isn’t that what we complain we don’t get enough of in modern times? Down time? Interesting, though, what we face when nothing becomes ours.
* * *
If we are lucky, there will be a time — not just a moment, but a whole time — in which my son and I will look back on this summer and remember we did nothing. That nothing happened. (Nothing, when you are ingesting a food that has always been poisonous to you, is actually what you find yourself wishing for.) If we are very lucky, he might be at overnight camp next summer, eating peanuts, wishing the summer will never end, remarking to himself how fast it has gone by, telling his friends how hard it will be to wait for next summer.
If we are lucky there will be a time in which I look back on this summer and understand it was necessary and good. That it was an unexpected, extravagant gift, even. That it was a slow summer in which I didn’t clean out my closet, or write a novel, or teach myself or my son origami. But one in which I learned a little how to be alone, how to think thoughts and then let them go.