Yom chamishi, 17 Tamuz 5769, Ta'anit Shiva Asar b'Tamuz.
The Dearly Beloved and I are in a walking competition, started by our friends and fellow bloggers over at Chez Treppenwitz. As much of our daily life involves sitting -- my husband with a guitar and student, and I in front of the computer -- the opportunity to walk off a little pudge competitively seemed like a good idea. It has been wonderful, at many different levels.
We are spending some real quality time together. We feel better and stronger -- and, yes, we are getting lighter, ever so slowly. The kids are very supportive. Frequently throughout the day, they will ask how many steps we have walked so far. There is nothing quite so rewarding as getting "knucks" from your proud and encouraging teenangel. (Sports Guy: "Nice job, Ema. Give us some knucks!")
Today, we were too busy to get to our customary evening walk until very late at night. But, see -- that is the point of competition. If we were doing this on our own, we would look at the clock, and our fully-functioning brains would say, "Naaah. Not tonight." But thanks to our buddy Trep, our glory-drunk egos scream "Slacker!!! Get out there and get it done! Tie on those tennies, right NOW!"
Now here is the delicious part of going out so late. The beautiful black sky is filled with stars. Some of them are red. There is a planet near the moon, clearly visible. The Dearly Beloved says, with such awe in his voice, "Can you believe what our eyes can see? Those stars are billions of years old, and light-years away! And yet we can see them, and even know which ones are hot and which ones are cool. We can see the valleys of the moon; and it's over 300,000 kilometers from Earth. Amazing!" I am unbelievably happy. He still is as excited about astronomy as he was as a kid. He points out Scorpius, and Cassiopeia (which has always been one of my favorites). We marvel together at the gift of sight Hashem has given us. Each of us says a silent prayer that He lets us keep this gift, for many years, in good health.
At a bend in the road, we suddenly hear pounding feet behind us. We turn slightly, without fear, to be sure that we are not in the jogger's way. In the city, in the Old Country, we would not have been walking by choice at this hour. And if for some reason we were, the sound of running feet approaching would have caused us to whirl, and get into a defensive fighting position. Our hearts would have been in our throats, hoping that this would not be the time when we would join others in our community who had been mugged or worse. We walk and talk, and before we know it, we arrive at the brand-new "Park shel Sport."
For a change, there is no one there. So we exercise a bit, under the remarkable sky.
"What does your pedometer say?" He asks me. When I tell him my step count, he says it's time for us to head home. As we are walking up our street, the fog rolls in that has been hovering over the Mediterranean. It brings with it dew that we literally watch being deposited on the cars. "Since we moved here, I finally understand our tefillot," I say to him. "Davening for dew in the middle of the Baltimore summer rainy season never made too much sense. But of course -- the Jewish calendar was made for Israel." As simple as this concept is, it becomes very clear to us, as we watch it taking place before our eyes.
And when we return home, the clouds that always remind me of the ananei ha'kavod envelope us in a cool and soothing embrace.
So now it's far too late to still be awake. Instead of setting my alarm to get up early enough to ingest some caffeine before the fast, I am enjoying the feeling of gratitude for the simple Jewish life I have wanted for so long.
"It is on fast days that peace and truth are hewn out."...
..."May they become forever times of joy and celebration -- festive days."*
*The quotes above are taken from Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks' English translation of the Selichot for Seventeenth of Tamuz, The Koren Siddur, p. 954.
**City of Dreams is the title a wonderful song written by my dear son, known to you here as Soldier Boy. I hope one day to post a good recording of it.
Shiva Asar b'Tamuz: The fast of the 17th of Tamuz is one of the days that commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Ananei haKavod: Clouds of Glory that protected the Israelites in the wilderness