In the car to the airport I watch the sky go by—the sky so blue and so big; where I live we’ve let it be that way, we haven’t crowded it with buildings and clamor and people. Wide and unhampered, I feel its joy. Sunlight plays off the leaves, vibrant green, deep red, smoky orange, highlights dancing as we whoosh by, trees and trees and trees. The mountains tell me they’ll wait, and the lake is still and gray. I ache, thinking about leaving it all behind, missing the rest of the season, every change, every sunrise and sunset. But I can’t let myself feel lost already. I find strength in forcing my mind and my soul to recall that, sustained by God, the leaves will turn colors again next year, every subsequent year, and the sun will continue to rise and set over the mountains, morning and evening, for as long as I can foresee. I may miss many moments, each one unique, but there will be more, and all of them fantastic.
I’m back in the city and right away I feel it: the pressure that constricts my lungs, the noise and the rush and the urgency, pulsing, pulsing, pushing toward a goal. Faster! In the cab I try to retain some of my composure, the blissful peace that a month at home bestowed, but already I feel it slipping. The conclusions that I came to, the slow deliberate consideration of options, the necessary realization that I can, must handle whatever comes next is suddenly replaced by COMPARISON, by COMPETITION, by the feeling that I am BEHIND and INFERIOR and about to LOSE all chance of success. The city yells at me in capital letters. I press my hands to my ears, hoping to erase the sounds with memories of long pinebrown walks through a forest to shul, talks with my father, songs sung with my sister—but the city is relentless.
Back in the dorm I try to forget my troubles as I hug my friends and ask them about their chagim. Yet within minutes I realize that I hardly recognize myself. This loud, giddy person—zany, entertaining—she is not me. For a month I was quiet, sweet, reflective, thoughtful, with a frothy, childlike joy. I return and my personality has shifted, I am a different girl. This manifestation annoys me. She is more shallow and less loved. She feels the pressure, the competition, and tries to drown out the voices with frivolity. She strives for attention, even—especially—among her closest friends. The city life is too rushed for the quiet one to survive. She struggles and thrashes and makes more noise than she cares to hear. I turn away.
I sit in class and try to feel. A month at home restored my ability to discover and accept my emotions. It was elation, pure and clear, to know that my capacity for love and fear and wonder still abides. I felt the emotional nuance of each chag, each Godly encounter, each human interaction, and I reveled in the awareness of it. Without emotion, life skids by untouched, there is no way to grasp hold of a moment. Precious sensitivity allowed me to live each day, to experience and grow. And now I am back, and already I feel a callus forming, my skin thickened, becoming impervious to nicks and scratches and soft caresses. I see opportunity sliding away, I feel loss, I want so much to stop this process. But what can I do? This city eats at my heart and diminishes Truth, but I cannot leave now.
So I will close my door and close my eyes and breathe slowly through my nose until I find my pace again. I will do this today and tomorrow if I must, but each time the equanimity I regain is less. And then the time will come that I will leave this city for a few days or weeks and I will find myself once more. And then, with the inevitability of night after morning, I will return to the city, again and again—until the day that life leads me to a new place, and I am liberated at last.