For 49 days now, we counted.
Today is one day ba-omer.
Today is eight days, which are one week and one day ba-omer.
Today is nine and 40 days, which are seven weeks ba-omer.
Up, up, up: with every day, we added numbers, added experiences, added a bit more life to our account.
And this year, there was a lot to experience. This year, there was a lot of life to add.
* * *
On April 17th, the eighth day of the omer, I walked past a doorstep, and stopped. I remembered, with sharp and sudden clarity, how I sat on that doorstep a month earlier, resting after a long day of train rides across Boston. I remembered how exhilarated I was on that day, and how I reveled in the sightseeing, in the motion, in the crowds. I hastened home, but I could not outrun that jolt of memory. Like a jagged shard of loss, it lodged in my insides.
(What do we miss about the lives we had lived once? What do we want to resume? What are we happy to forgo?)
On April 20th, the 11th day of the omer, I read the words of a woman who stayed on the phone with her dying father for 36 hours, and listened to his breathing, and sang to him, and talked. On April 23rd, the 14th day of the omer, I learned that the ambulances of NYC wail throughout each day.
(How can we stand the pain behind each siren? What does it feel like to hear silence where there once was breath?)
On May 6th, the 27th day of the omer, I had to hold my son’s hand and say that yes, I know, it’s really hard to learn like this, and no, I don’t think the less of him for struggling. Who wouldn’t struggle? On May 12th, the 33rd day of the omer, a friend brought us homemade food, and it was my turn to need a hand to hold me. My friend’s care made me miss my mother terribly, but an ocean — and a pandemic — kept us far apart.
(What can we give each other? What do we need?)
Each day, each experience, was a seed within me. Each question was a growth experience — an invitation to transform. And as we reach the 49th day of the omer, I’m not the person I was when we began to count.
* * *
Outside my window, the world is different too. The magnolias were in bloom on Passover, when we started counting. By now, their blossoms are all gone, swallowed in a sea of green. The tree outside my window was bare until the 23rd day of the omer. Now it sags under its canopy, like a cascade of leaves and tiny baby fruits.
For the trees, these are fruit days — the end of a long season’s labor. I look out and I wonder: what fruits have grown in me? We counted, and counted, and lived, and experienced. How have I altered? Who am I growing to be?
* * *
On May 17th, the 38th day of the omer, I saw an acorn on the forest’s floor. It was cracked, and at first I thought that it was damaged. I thought that a squirrel might have consumed it, or that another human stepped on it, breaking it beyond repair.
But then I saw the odd red tentacle that sprouted out of the cracks and curved into the ground and then emerged again, a young new shoot. I sat down on the forest floor, and looked, and marveled. Right there, right before me, I could see the transformation that lies at the heart of all living. Right there, right before me, it revealed itself to my naked eye.
“No creature can attain a higher grade of nature without ceasing to exist,” wrote the Ceylonese philosopher Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. The acorn wasn’t broken; it was working to attain a higher grade of nature. I only saw the cracks because I was lucky, because I happened upon it in the moment of its transformation, before it lost its prior nature in becoming something more.
I used to think of fruit as a journey’s completion. I imagined our forefathers observing their fruit-laden orchards and vineyards, awash with satisfaction at the results of their work. I thought that when they carried their bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple, they must have felt accomplished, and like they could finally rest.
But the cracked acorn tells another, different, story. While a fruit may be an end in and of itself for a farmer, for a tree, it’s the seed of a new transformation, the first step of many in a journey-to-be.
I think that our forefathers knew it. They also knew, as a tree does, that there will always be other seasons of work. This year’s fruits will be replaced by the challenge of producing new harvests. The trees and the farmers will have to work hard once more.
And yet, every Shavuot, they celebrated what they had achieved within the past season. They paused, and acknowledged, and gave thanks to God. And I, too, wish to pause as we pass from 49 days to 50. I, too, am grateful, though much work lies ahead.
* * *
God, I know that we are not past this time of hurt and crisis. And I know that we will go on reaping its many sour grapes. Our hearts will go on bleeding, for there is still so much loss and so much suffering. Our divisions keep growing toxic, and we will have much to undo. But we have also learned much — about community, and strength, and about kindness. We came to know each other differently. We had to grow and change within ourselves.
I look at the ocean of leaves and fruit outside my window, and I am grateful — truly grateful — for all that I have learned. Please, God, help me sow these lessons back into the ground that is life’s never-ending transformation. Help me use them as we navigate the challenges ahead.
But for today, God, I will dwell in the present. And I will thank you, my God, for this painful season’s fruits.