Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Start of a Resolution

I’ve never been one for resolutions, mostly because I’ve never been one to keep them. But for 2016, having missed the boat for the start of 5776, I decided to give the resolution thing another try.

Resolutions are about change, about pausing to steer our mindset and our behavior in a new direction. They are not about altering our personality, which would be impossible, or taking on something so unrealistic that we set ourselves up for failure. My previous attempts at sticking to them tanked for this reason exactly – well, that and the fact that my heart wasn’t in the enterprise from the outset.

This time, I’m going to tackle it another way.

I devoted a lot of energy in 2015 to decluttering our house, a daunting campaign to rid ourselves of the stuff that weighed us down. Our home now feels lighter, and I know I got there only because I cut the project into little tasks that I then accomplished one at a time. I’m thinking that by applying that same approach to a resolution, I stand a far better chance of success.

But which resolution should I start with and how should I divide it into smaller, manageable pieces?

Life, as it does, soon pointed me in the right direction, because when you’re looking, the blessings are often right in front of you. I attended a lecture about giving thanks, and within days stumbled upon numerous articles covering the same theme. The importance of appreciation – feeling it, expressing it, letting it warm and fill us until it alters our worldview and our approach to daily life – wasn’t a new concept, though the reminder was exactly what I needed.

One thing I read deeply moved me. Though a generic thanks is nice, a specific one is better. Essentially, this: Break gratitude down into parts. Express appreciation individually – to G-d, spouse, children, extended family, friends, and other people we know, as well as total strangers, like the ones who offer an unsolicited kindness when we’re having a rough moment. And say exactly what we’re grateful for, noting both the sublime and the everyday, from the splendor of spring-in-December weather to the fact that my boys put 80s music on my iPhone.

Armed with a plan, I picked up a notebook that I won’t call a gratitude journal for fear it will jinx me before I get started. But I hope, come January 1, to start each day by jotting down one thing, maybe two, that I’m grateful for. I know there will be times when it will be hard to see the forest for the trees. Still, this is a resolution I think I can own. After all, there’s so much to be thankful for once we decide to take notice.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Happy Weight of Marriage

On a recent Thursday, Kveller kindly published my blog post about how we are a changed household since I began setting the Shabbos table on Thursday night, rather than leaving the task to the last moment on Friday. It was my husband’s idea, inspired by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, and it’s true that his suggestion that “we” take it on really meant I’d be the one doing it.

I loved hearing from people who said that setting their tables that Thursday night had made their Friday more peaceful. Others made me smile by telling me it’s what they aspire to for their Shabbos future. Yet a number of commenters challenged me as to why the task had landed in my lap when it was my husband’s big idea. If it means so much to him, they asked, why does he not just do it himself?

A writer needs thick skin. Not everyone is going to agree with you or like what you write – not all the time and maybe not ever. But for some reason, this question got to me and I couldn’t shake it off, though I took the advice of a media savvy writer friend and refrained from getting into an extensive online discussion about it.

Still, I wanted to shout that the job had always been mine, that I’d only agreed to set the table a day early. My next inclination was to explain the intricacies of our lives, how my husband gets home very late on Thursday nights, then leaves at dawn on Friday before sliding into home plate at candle lighting. If we left it to him to set the table or cook for Shabbos, we’d be eating takeout off the paper piles on the dining room table every week – and I’d the one picking up the takeout.

I longed to add that he does do a lot of other things around here, including some of the jobs I don’t love very much, like snaking the toilet and going to Costco and taking out the garbage, not to mention all the electro-technical matters I can’t wrap my brain around and putting the cover on the grill, which I can never seem to get right. Plus, he’s handy. He fixes things.

After all of that, he’s never once said to me, “Well, if you want the deer poop out of the backyard, you should get rid of it yourself.” He just puts on gloves and makes it go away because I’ve asked him nicely (and frequently, because deer are a problem here), or more likely because he knows I’ll be much happier when the deer poop is gone.

Long ago, we sketched out team jobs that work for us, roles that shape-shift over time as we adapt to changes in our lives, our health, our children’s needs, and our careers. Without a doubt, there are growing pains that come with these modifications, just as we might feel overwhelmed when bumps in the road mean one of us has to schlepp some, or a lot of, extra weight.

What I carry around in my head, though, is the message from a lecture I attended around the time we got married. The speaker, for the life of me I can’t remember who it was, said that if both partners focus on doing what will make the other happy, the marriage will be doubly blessed, the extra blessing coming from the high we get in lifting the spirits of someone we love, a happiness that ultimately trickles down to us, too.

In the midst of the rest of the chaos of our lives, it’s what makes me rise early every morning, no matter how little sleep I get the night before, to make my husband coffee and breakfast for the road, and what motivates him to stop at the Dunkin Donuts drive-through every Friday, returning home to tell me how delicious the Shabbos food smells and how beautiful the table looks while handing me an iced latte.

Silly rituals, perhaps, but they take the edge off some of the everyday pressures that plague us all, by reminding us that behind the chores and responsibilities, we are building a life together. It’s not about the quid pro quo. It’s about love.