Too Busy to Fear
Closing ThoughtsOpinion

Too Busy to Fear

When we are busy, we may fool ourselves that we are making the most of life, but we may simply be hiding fully from the complexity of living.

Rabbi Ruth
Rabbi Ruth

I still have a few things to do before I leave the house. I click on the audiobook player. I must write some sermons, so I choose a book that I hope will inspire me. The recording picks up where I left off, “Against death which we see as the ultimate failure, we offer up success. Against death which we see as the ultimate emptiness, we offer up the acquisition of objects.”

The book continues, but now I can’t find my keys. Or, for that matter, my earphones. I need them both if I’m going to make it to the dentist. I find them.

I get into the car and focus on pulling out of the driveway. On my way with time to spare, I focus in again, “…we’ve become a nation of workaholics, a people who have come to believe that we can conquer death by dint of our own powers, to rest is to die, so we never permit ourselves a moment’s rest.”

I stop at a red light. I have no patience for this. They were repaving the street leading to the main road.

Now I might be late. I don’t have time for Rabbi Alan Lew’s big philosophical ideas right now.

I switch to a mystery. Mysteries are my favorite escape. This one is set in London during the blitz. At night when the city is dark, young boys are sent out to run between offices and deliver messages between war officials. This one boy loves to run, and he is sure that running is what is keeping him safe. Because if he runs fast enough, the bombs will never hit him.

This must be a cosmic joke.

I make it on time. Then I must wait. But I left my earphones in the car, so it is just a matter of sitting and waiting. Quietly.

I think of all I must do during the rest of the day. I think of all I must do during the rest of the week.

But it does not matter how much I have left to do because, at this moment, I cannot do any of it. I am sitting in the dentist’s chair, waiting. Quietly.

I began listening to Rabbi Lew’s book to get inspiration for the sermon I need to give. But this is not the sermon I have to give. This is the sermon I must hear. In the last two years, I have been particularly busy. There was work. There were family simchas and, gratefully, many of them. And there was work. I have been too busy for much quiet.

Rabbi Lew is right sometimes; it was easier to be busy than think about the pandemic which was impacting us all or about incivility in public discourse or climate change. Being busy is hard, but it also fills you up. It ensures that you don’t have to confront that which you do not want to confront.

This summer we went away to the beach. We chose a place with lots of activities nearby. I expected we would go on many adventures and see beautiful places. Instead, I was in bed early nearly every night and rarely chose to move from my chair in the shade. I read a book. I painted. I was quiet. On the last day, as I lay by the water, my high holiday sermons came to me fully formed as a group.

Then I came back from vacation and got busy. I lost track of my sermon ideas. I forgot what I had learned when I stopped being busy.

I am not in the dentist’s chair long. But in the moment of quiet, I can understand. I cannot outrun or out busy the realities of what it means to be alive. I have trust in the process and make space for silence.

Slowing down goes against everything in modern western life; it is at the core of Judaism. Not only do we have a weekly reminder of the importance of pausing, but during the High Holiday season, from the start of Elul to Sigd, we are confronted time and again with the futility of living as though we can outrun our fear. Our liturgy repeatedly reminds us that we cannot do it all and that we must choose how to be in this world with intention.

When we are busy, we may fool ourselves that we are making the most of life, but we may simply be hiding fully from the complexity of living.

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