I recently read an essay from Contents magazine called “10 Timeframes” by Paul Ford. You may have heard me talk about it before, because I completely fell in love. The piece covers a number of different topics – but my favorite by far is Ford’s conception of the value of time. “There are 200 of you in this auditorium,” he writes. “So every minute I don’t talk saves about three-and-a-third hours of human time. That’s a pretty serious ratio. Every one of my minutes is collectively 200 of yours.” If only we could all think of our lives this way – how infinitely more valuable every moment could become. A minute can be worth so much more than sixty seconds.
Within the Jewish community we’re already operating at a heightened awareness of time – our rituals create their own time-frame. To live a Jewish life is to live inside of four concentric circles of time – the daily rhythm of prayer surrounded by the weekly rhythm of Shabbat, the monthly cycle of Rosh Chodesh, and the yearly cycle of the holidays. Halacha is often incredibly specific about timing, and our lunar calendar is a complex system of leap months and precise counting. But knowing precisely when a task is supposed to happen or how long it’s supposed to take has little to do with whether or not you know how to value the experience.
I’ve found myself struggling with these calendars over the last year. Going to synagogue on a Friday night used to be such a pleasure for me, but recently has come to feel like a chore. The time I used to spend reading d’vrei torah and engaging in the study of Jewish texts has slowly been replaced with a Netflix queue and the vast universe of social media (I have, at last count, a Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook account along with three separate email addresses). While I place real value on working in a Jewish context and living a Jewish life, recently I’ve struggled to live up to that value.
Some of it can be attributed to professional burnout – when your Jewish life and your professional life are one and the same, Jewish experiences become work experiences and finding time for personal reflection can be a challenge. This is a common enough experience among my peers; it’s definitely a topic I’ve discussed before. A part of it can certainly be attributed to the shifting nature of my Jewish identity. The more I have learned and practiced, the harder it has become for me to find a place to pray that meets all of my needs spiritually and mentally. And a piece of it is simply due to social anxieties – sometimes navigating the community piece of a Jewish community is even more challenging than the Jewish piece.
When I was twelve years old, my parents flew Jesse and I to Albuquerque, rented an R.V., and drove us around the national parks of the south-west for three weeks (we didn’t banish Ari from the family that summer, he just happened to be in Israel). I remember that particular vacation well, and not just because in typical Naomi fashion I came down with Strep throat and vomited on the side of a hiking path in Bryce Canyon (or was it Canyonlands?). I’m not sure I would have been able to articulate this at the time, but looking back on that vacation I feel nothing but awe over the sheer quantity of natural beauty we saw. I hope that while I was standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon I was able to appreciate the vastness of the experience and not just complain about being tired, hungry, or bored.
If you ask me why I’m biking from Chicago to D.C., I’ll probably talk about raising awareness for sustainable agriculture. I will talk about the physical and mental challenge of cycling at least sixty miles a day for three weeks straight. I will probably say something about wanting to go on an adventure. All of these things are true, but the truest truth of all comes back to Paul Ford, who wraps things up in his piece by saying this:
The only unit of time that matters is heartbeats. Even if the world were totally silent, even in a dark room covered in five layers of foam, you’d be able to count your own heartbeats.… If we are going to ask people, in the form of our products, in the form of the things we make, to spend their heartbeats—if we are going to ask them to spend their heartbeats on us, on our ideas, how can we be sure, far more sure than we are now, that they spend those heartbeats wisely?In the last few months, I have lost perspective on how to spend my heartbeats wisely, and I think the best way I can get it back is to put myself somewhere that I can hear them.
What does that mean in practical terms? I'm not entirely certain. I don't think I can comfortably turn off everything with an off switch and ignore the world for the next three weeks - but I can change the way I interact. As of Sunday, I'm planning on disconnecting from everything beyond my email and this blog. I'm going to surround myself with natural beauty, and I'm going to figure out how many heartbeats a minute and a mile and a day of biking is worth. I look forward to letting you know how it goes.
It's not too late to donate to my fundraising campaign - Hazon and I appreciate the support!