It’s summer, usually a time for merriment, but not this year. This year, to borrow a bit from Shakespeare, now is the season of our discontent — the long, unrelenting season of Covid-19.
Yet, soon, amid pandemic and economic and political injustice, autumn’s breakneck, breathless season of Jewish renewal and recommitment will arrive. Beginning next month, we will observe Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Since these observations still feel far away, I propose we start the renewal and re-engagement process right now, finding ways — each day — to celebrate our lives. If we don’t, we risk stagnation, discontent and even depression as we mourn lives lost, illness and life plans stymied amid shelter-in-place health requirements and economic hardship.
How to do it, though? “Aye, there’s the rub” — to quote Shakespeare yet again.
In recent days, I admit to succumbing to ennui and sadness. The signs? Overeating, under-exercising, too little work accomplished, too much internal angst and too much staring at the TV.
To prod myself out of my coronavirus blues, I first thought about my tough-as-nails family. I recalled my brilliant Shakespeare-quoting father being forced to quit school in sixth grade to help support his family during the Depression, and my mother’s quiet, enduring mourning for her brother killed in World War II. And I also reflected on the resilience and grace of both parents and my two oldest brothers, who all faced debilitating health problems but still managed to laugh and find joy each day.
Fortified by a strong dose of familial nostalgia, I developed my plan. It was a ridiculously simple one. I wrote out a daily schedule. It wasn’t fancy. It contained no uplifting quotes. It just detailed the basics of day-to-day life. Get up, eat breakfast, do household chores for an hour, write for two hours, exercise, write for another hour, etc.
Again, my simple schedule contained nothing profound. But it built in accountability, and it got me — and kept me — focused. Surprisingly, it also sparked something I hadn’t felt in a while: gratitude, which is something to celebrate in these endless days of sheltering in place, wearing masks and social distancing.
Why did my simple little daily schedule generate these profound feelings of gratitude and celebration?
It did so by reminding me of all I have to be grateful for — good health, a loving family, comfortable surroundings to live and work in, the ability (really the luxury) to be my own boss and set my own schedule for work.
Since part of my newly imposed daily regime includes an hour for study and reflection, I looked up “Judaism and gratitude.” It seems our religion is literally built upon the word gratitude! The original Hebrew word for Jew, Yehudi, is a form of the Hebrew word for thank you — todah.
Daily Jewish prayer opens with Modeh/Modah Ani — a thank you for the opportunity of another day. So much for the much-maligned Jewish guilt! We Jews are much more oriented toward gratitude!
And the Hebrew term for gratitude, hakarat hatov, means, literally, “recognizing the good.” So practicing gratitude means recognizing the good that is already yours, which, of course, brings me back full circle to my simple daily schedule — the one that got me out of my funk.
If a return to basic routines and rituals isn’t enough to help right now, and you need something else to lift your spirits, good news! August is Family Fun Month and also Admit You’re Happy Month.
It’s also National Catfish Month here in the U.S., obviously not so much a Jewish holiday, but maybe the silly thought of it will tide you over till we get into the swing of the Jewish fall holidays. They’re just around the corner.