Thanksgiving Is a Reminder to Take Time for Rest and Renewal
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love seeing family. I love making and serving favorite foods. I love rehashing old memories. Each year I have grand plans of sending out cards to family and friends that I rarely get to see, trying out some new Thanksgiving recipes, and finding just a little time that I can carve out to sit and relax and enjoy the holiday season. I have to admit that I have not accomplished any of these goals. Thanksgiving is the only fall holiday when I don’t have to lead services and I still find myself running around trying to get things done at the last minute. I have even been known to bring a store-bought pie to family dinner rather than making one myself. (I don’t judge. Store-bought pies are awfully good, this still mortifies me.)
Despite all of my shattered dreams of making the perfect Thanksgiving pie for my family, I still love Thanksgiving. It’s the one fall holiday when I feel like I can let loose and actually indulge in the meaning of the day. While I can pray at High Holiday and Festival services, there is a part of my brain that is constantly listening for the next cue, watching for the next congregational reader to come up, or watching the kids in the sukkah to make sure they aren’t going to topple the whole thing over. I can pray, but I can’t totally let go. Thanksgiving is different. I get to be me. No one at our family dinner calls me Cantor. No one asks me questions about B’nai Mitzvah. No one wants to talk about that song they heard once but they don’t know the words and can we please sing it next Friday. I get to talk about where my aunt is going on her next vacation or what new projects my cousins are up to, and I love it.
This season is hard on all of us. For our clergy, we are just coming off of our busiest and most pressured time. For the rest of us, we have the beginning of school for our children, the start of new projects, and a return to schedules that seem to have us running in place. So, while the bustle of seeing everyone for Thanksgiving is nice, I have to remember that last goal of mine: to just take a little time for myself. Several years ago I went to see my father’s family for the holidays. I knew this holiday was going to be hard. My father had just passed away and this was the first holiday without him. When I got there we all tried to pretend that everything was normal until we sat down at the table. We made the same dishes as always. We had the same conversations we had been having for years. My baby cousin set the table just like she always did. The problem was that she had put out the same number of place settings. No one noticed until we all sat down and there was an empty place right next to me. Needless to say it was not a great evening. However, I had known it was going to be difficult. In a stroke of forethought I had booked myself into an historic spa for the weekend. It took the crummiest holiday ever for me to allow myself the “luxury” of some down time. Over the years I have not found the time to recreate that little escape. Other things always come up and I never feel that I have a good enough excuse to justify tuning out for a day.
Why is it that we wait to take the time we know we need until we are running on empty? I don’t know much about cars, but I do know that a car cannot run when it is out of gas. As an avid fan of Click and Clack’s Car Talk on NPR I know that you can lose valuable gas mileage if you only fill up your car when the gauge shows empty. You can save yourself both money and the frustration of possibly running out of gas if you fill up before you absolutely need to. The same goes for us. We know what we need to do, and we often counsel others to do what they need to for themselves, but how often do we actually follow our own advice?
Our Jewish traditions teach us the importance of rest and renewal. Even in the very beginning of our Torah we are told that God rested following the creation of the world. Even those of us who do make it to Shabbat services regularly often don’t have time to enjoy a true rest of Shabbat. If Shabbat is supposed to be our collective “day off” why can’t we actually take a full day? I have heard many rabbis and cantors jokingly refer to their Tuesday Shabbatot. I don’t know about you but my day off is usually full of laundry, grocery shopping, and other chores that I just don’t have time to do during the work week. That is hardly the Shabbat rest that I envision. I would love to spend that time with my family, reading a good book, or just catching up on the TV shows I don’t get to watch on a regular basis. I would love just a little peace.
This year I have a million reasons not to slow down and enjoy the fall, but I am going to try again to take the time I know I need. I know that this year is going to bring new adventures, new challenges, and new beginnings. I know that I want to be able to truly appreciate each one. I also know that I cannot bring my full attention to my family or my work if I’m not at my most focused. In order to do that, I need to find a way to recharge without feeling guilty for doing so. If I can accomplish my goal this year, I can be truly grateful this Thanksgiving.
Cantor Rebecca Moses is the cantor of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, NJ.
Originally published at Notes Worth Knowing