Find the Pause in Between
The hallways of my high school don’t exist anymore.
One of my last memories of being a student in high school is walking literally shoulder to shoulder with other kids, in the overstuffed hallways of our public high school. I close my eyes, and picture myself walking down the first floor hallway, past the guidance office, towards the back exit. My pulse quickens, and my breathing becomes sharp, and shallow. While it was my senior year, and I knew my time here was limited, I suffocated amongst the many arms, legs, backpacks, lacrosse sticks, and the scent of teenage angst wafting through the hallway.
A year or two after I graduated, most of the school building was demolished, and rebuilt into the manicured, extra large infrastructure that it is now. I once went back to take a tour, and felt the vibrating echoes of the past rising from the floor. I felt just as suffocated in the expansive hallways as I had during that last year, where we were too many, and the space too little.
There is only one portion of the school that still exists, just as it did when I went there, and just as it has since the school was first built in the early 1900s. It can’t be torn down — it is historic. In that building, there is a stairwell, and giving light to that stairwell, is a window. Every afternoon, on the inside of that stairwell, leaning against that window, I would wait. I would wait for the hallways to clear, for the voices to quiet, and for people to go home. As I looked out the window, I could see people being picked up to go home in the school’s large, circular driveway, sports teams gearing up and walking across the street to the track and football field, and life filtering away from the school. In that pause between school and home, I could be in suspended time.
Neither here, nor there, but also — don’t have to care.
Recently, I have felt like I did during those last few months in those hallways — struggling to breathe amidst a feeling of “too much, too close.” I feel the same tightness in my chest, that desperation to find a small corner of light, and a pocket of fresh air. The conversation that repeats itself amongst my circles nowadays is a feeling of lamentation, a feeling of walking on a loop, where everything repeats — fire, Covid, hurricanes, earthquakes, unspeakable tragedies in places that seem far, but are actually closer than we think.
I often think about the future my children will live in, and I picture the dystopian settings of various popular young adult novel series. Then my chest tightens, and I can’t breathe, and I want to go to that window, where I can pause, and watch the world unfold from a place of pause.
I visited the town where I went to high school, and as I do, went for a run past my old high school. The building is still there, the window is still there — yet the pause seems elusive. I feel the days as both moving too quickly towards an unimaginable endpoint, and yet refusing to boil as I watch them without end, constantly removing the lid to watch the water. I find myself in the middle of the too-quick/too crowded present, yet too slow/uncertain future.
This week, I learned a piece of Gemara in Brachot, the tractate that tells the origin of daily blessings we say in Judaism. On a typical day, a person could say 100 blessings or more — from anything from seeing a rainbow, to going to the bathroom. We learned about what type of blessing we say when we see rain, and a line about when we say the blessing struck me, or rather the interpretation of that line — the Gemara asks,
“When do we say the blessing for the rain?”
“When the groom emerges to meet the bride.”
What does this mean, in practical terms? Rashi tells us, it is when there is enough water on the ground to form a puddle, and when the drops that fall from above cause the water on the ground to splash, thus sending drops back up. In that magical meeting point between the drops of the sky, and the drops from the earth — we find our blessing.
I thought about this as it relates to the push and pull of too much (noise, war, crisis, illness, despair) and not enough (aid, information, safety, hope) — there has to be a middle space somewhere, right? A place where the storm above, and the disturbance below still exist, but there’s a pause — a time in between. A time where we can, perhaps, find blessing.
For now, as we go into another Shabbat, where many of us will think about where we have been as humanity, and perhaps, where we are headed, I ask that you find that pause — that moment in between it all — in just one tiny moment. Maybe you find our own window to look out at the world from, maybe you look down at the steam coming up from your morning coffee, and find grace in it, maybe you close your eyes and let your breath take you to an internal clearing place. (I like the clearing clouds and airplanes from a crowded sky visualization). Maybe, as we light candles, say kiddush, say our prayers, tend to our gardens — we take a moment to listen — bring pause to us, and bring light where darkness still cowers.
The hallways of my high school don’t exist anymore, but the echoes of life moving, too close together, withought pause, still do- as they do in all of us.
I wish you pause. I wish you peace.