After spending the last days of the high holiday season with family in Cleveland, my husband’s work schedule combined with the time Shabbos ended meant that we would need to drive through the night. Our estimated arrival time was around three in the morning.
I’m aware that many parents prefer driving at night (sleeping children are much more pleasant travel companions than kvetching ones), but night driving makes me very nervous. We’d be driving through rural areas, in the mountains, after a three-day holiday, with rain in the forecast. Not the most comforting scenario.
Our plan was to both stay up. I drank a large coffee at the outset of the trip, hoping that it would energize me well past my normal bedtime of eleven. We had six hours of conversation ahead of us. It was like a mega date, but in near total darkness and with a lot of anxiety.
There were some amusing moments with the kids as they randomly woke at various ridiculously late points in the evening. Like when, out of nowhere, my oldest exclaimed in an strained, urgent tone of voice,
“What?” I immediately responded, somewhat concerned.
“Do you have a middle name?”
(still the urgent tone of voice) “What is it?”
So there was that. But what most sticks out in my memory of this nighttime traveling experience was just how dark it was in between populated areas.
So, so dark
There were times when the lines on the road were barely visible, and the reflectors on the shoulder were sparse. There were no hazy city lights on the horizon, just the inky blackness behind, beside and before us. We joked about driving “into the void,” but it was an unsettling feeling. We used our brights frequently, illuminating the way ahead as best as we could on our own.
When there were other travelers on the road, we were able to switch to our low beams. The taillights visible ahead helped us navigate the curves of the road that approached. Sharing the road with others gave me a greater sense of security, less of a solitary feeling, less of the void, more of a trip or a journey.
Reflecting on this makes me think about how this is like life. There’s a lot of the journey which takes place during the day, when things are relatively clear, and there’s not a lot of anxiety about what’s up ahead. There’s dinner to be made, groceries to purchase, home repairs to attend to. Normal. Expected. Mundane.
But other times we are driving in the dark, with extremely low visibility, poorly marked curves and hills and dips that can be very anxiety-inducing. We can shed a little light on our own, but it only gets us so far. It’s when we share the road with others that we are able to see ahead, to get clarity about where to go.
For me, the light that I can shed on my own is whatever solitary Torah learning I’m able to do. The books that I’ve read, the lectures I’ve listened to at home, the times I’ve read from the ancient texts and their commentaries. Without those, I would be grasping in the dark. They are my crucial foundation to start navigating life.
But it’s when I reach out to those around me, in my community, when I share the road with others, that I truly am able to navigate, to make sure that my understanding of what I’m learning is straight and accurate, that I’m not veering off because a reflector is a little skewed. Through discussions with friends, consulting with mentors, attending classes outside of the home (no small feat sometimes!), emailing or calling rabbis or rebbetzins, asking for advice when a large decision is before me, when there is a curve in the road.
And an application
Now that the high holiday season is actually behind us (can you believe it?), we are left with a void of sorts. There’s not a three-day Yom Tov to prepare for, no prayers to review or intense spiritual accounting taking place (though that should really be a constant kind of thing, but I digress). It would be totally normal to just drift back into the mundane routine of daily life. But instead of doing that, what if we took the spiritual charge of the intense holiday period and let the light carry through into the year?
Invite someone for Shabbos (there’s a whole thing going on next week, fyi), start learning with a chavrusa (Partners in Torah is great for that), build a connection with a friend or mentor. When you send an email or letter or pick up the phone to shmooze, include a Torah thought or spiritual musing.
What are some other ways we can extend the light of Torah into the “normal” parts of the year?