Sensory Identification

It’s amazing how the senses can take you back.

This morning, I placed my nose close to the hot cup of Elite coffee, swirling from the spoon and lightened by milk, and suddenly, I was back in Jerusalem in 1996, spending Shabbat at Heritage House.

It was a time when I didn’t mind sleeping on a bunk bed and carrying my belongings in a backpack. I allowed myself to be compelled by the crowd of girls in long skirts, flowing down the stone steps of the Old City toward the Western Wall Saturday morning, thrust forward into the sunlit day by the enthusiasm of a millennia-old observance of this single day of rest.

I lit candles on Friday night with the girls in the hostel and listened to their rhetoric about the sanctity of the day.

I ignored the gender separation and fully tasted the thick, chewy, sweet Yerushalmi Kugel late morning in the top-floor apartment of a rabbi in a fur hat who spoke only Hebrew and Yiddish. Sitting with the girls and women, in skirts and long sleeves on an 80-degree day, I watched as they marveled at the fact that it was the rabbi himself who made this noodle pudding every week and invited strangers to hear his Torah discourse from the privacy of his home.

I was there. All from inhaling the scent of a cup of coffee in my summer-cool kitchen, where the windows were open and the only sounds came from the birds and insects outside.

And I was there when the slight pull of my window shade startled a tall, smooth deer to leap over the fence and out of my yard this past Friday morning. I knew suddenly the source of the death of my garden vegetables, I knew who had been snipping down the green beans before they could grow to full height.

And suddenly I didn’t mind.

The deer was so beautiful, so innocent, so lean, how could I mind that he is the reason I will not harvest green beans this fall? So what! I have so many other options for produce and for nutrition; he does not.

Some say that if you don’t love everything, you don’t love anything, and I’m beginning to see this as true. We are at our best moments when we strive to love something or someone who has given us trouble, made our lives difficult.

But you know, it’s not hard anymore. I almost love those individuals or instances more than the ones that are easy to love.

It is easy to love my little boy in his soccer-ball pajamas, his knees bent into the soft covers at night, his pudgy hands lacing around my neck in a hug. It is easy to love my beautiful, sweet daughter, and my earnest, book-engrossed older son.

It is easy to love my sweet father this father’s day, with his ham radio and his infinite knowledge of history and science and the way the world works, and it is easy to love my mother, whose enthusiasm is as innocent as the morning dew and who cherishes her family so much.

I won’t enumerate here the ones it’s not easy for me to love. But I will say this: I am learning to love one and all, learning to see the beauty in the dog’s defacation on my sidewalk and the turncoat former friend. For compassion reigns supreme, and everyone is fragile in some way.

For now, I will return to the sensory identification with moments from this life and hopefully today, find new ones that will bring me back to this single instant in time.

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