Counting days

There is so much to count, and it’s so very hard count right now.

We are pretty far deep into the omer, that seven-week period that connects the second day of Pesach to Shavuot. Those 49 days go from the liberation from Egypt to the giving of the Torah, from the physical to the metaphysical, from the terrifying escape to the terrifying redemption. There are all sorts of kabbalistic meanings to the weeks and days of the count; it’s a time of semi-mourning and also of spring.

During a normal year, it’s easy to forget how important starting and finishing are to counting. A count has to be anchored at both ends. It starts, and it finishes. It’s like a tennis net, or a tightrope; there’s an art to negotiating it, but both ends are solid.

We are living through a time when there is very little solid anything, at least for those of us lucky enough to work from home, and those of us unlucky enough no longer to have work, from anyplace. It’s hard to count the days because it’s hard to remember what day it is; everything is featureless. It all blends. The vibrant colors of our lives from before this have turned into unappealing sludge.

We began this new life just before Purim, but I don’t remember exactly when. It happened quickly, I know that; we went from the awful but safely far-away stories of cruise ships in the Pacific to realizing that no, we were not going back to the office any time soon, supermarkets are for losers, restaurants are opium-spattered dens of iniquity where disease lurks, other people are obstacles that force you to cross the street, and friends come in little Hollywood Squares boxes. And time itself isn’t a flowing river, but a stagnant pond.

We — at least I — can’t remember exactly when this started, and we — in this case the we is accurate, because it’s all of us — have absolutely no idea when it will end.

How do we count when we don’t know what we’re counting from and we don’t know what we’re counting toward?

I guess it’s because in the end — sorry if this is kitschy, but it’s true — we all count. Not only do we participate in the act of counting, but each of us is someone to be counted.

When this is over — and it will be over, somehow, because all pandemics end, somehow, because the Spanish flu ended, because even the Black Death ended — we will be set free in the strange new world that we will have to repopulate with goals and dreams and laughter. All of us will have to do that.

I take great comfort from the spring that is rioting outside. Somehow nature still knows how to count. The trees are blooming at the right time, and so are the flowers. Almost everything is out just now, as the seasons — early and mid spring — overlap. Soon every green tree will be in leaf. The birds are unbothered by the virus, and they wake up early, as if they were counting the hours, and they keep singing all day long. They can count their meter, it seems; they keep good time.

Just as nature can count, we can count too. We can count toward a vaccine, toward a better understanding of this microscopic mindless enemy, toward a better economy, toward a more fair, more just, less sidetracked world.

We’re halfway through the omer. This week is netzach. It means eternity; the kabbalistic interpreters say that it’s endurance, the long-suffering strength that leads to victory. It suggests that we hold on. That there is movement, that there is something to count, and that we will come out of it perhaps stronger, more patient, more determined than we were at the start.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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