Give And Take

What do you do when there’s nothing to do, nothing else to cross off the list, at least nothing you will actually get to at this point…?

For that, there’s the give-and-take park. It doesn’t have a name, a least not one that I know. But it has a book give-and-take bookshelf, kach v’ten. I borrowed from it a lightly-worn copy of Infinite Jest; I started it and have a ways to finish. It’s sitting on my shelf, also lightly used.

Kach v’ten. I have a pile of books I’ve been meaning to donate, staring at me, peeking out from under my metal stool, abandoned on a street corner, now a stand for my long mirror. They wait and nudge: a bestseller quasi-celeb memoir meets self-help guide, a collection of poems by someone I’m supposed to know, A Margaret Atwood novel I might have taken – lakachti – from this shelf in the first place. A Jewish-book-club sort of novel, and an airport-store drama about an adoptee, both my mother’s leftovers. I do intend to bring them soon, to deliver. Just in case Danielle Steele gets lonely amongst the incomplete set of Encyclopedia Britannica’s on the bottom row.

And so I go. Around the corner, the incline lighting up my thigh muscles, I adlib my usual muttered warrior pep-talk, declaring that I can do it. I can climb this; I can take this time. I can do nothing now. I can do Nothing now.

And I am moved to pray, for no reason at all. I haven’t in a while, besides mumbling along to Kabbalat Shabbat this past Friday night, tearful for no particular reason, distracted, and underwhelmed by the image of lox and soy cream cheese and multigrain challah loaves – meant to be a treat, a celebration of the sacred, simple silence that is Shabbat alone, instead a sort of pitiful consolation – awaiting me at home. I am moved on this Monday to consult my phone’s compass to find East, even though I am sure I am getting it wrong, that in Jerusalem, I am supposed to be more accurate, to face the actual Temple Mount, something like that. But I swish my wrist to calibrate the digital direction, and adjust my body, so that my hips point to the shelf, kach v’ten, but I make sure it’s clear I am not praying to the bookshelf itself. Direct my heart to Jerusalem, whatever that means. In the expansive sense?

I drop my shoulders and lift my gaze to the leaves above, attempt to rinse my mind: green, green, green. Leaves. My hands finger the golden yellow prayerbook to the Afternoon Service, in the timeless print of Rinat Yisrael, almost automatically. Though the page is in front of me, I try, out of habit, to recite Ashrei by heart, by the Alef-Bet, as my stare wanders. I’d like to think the birds are chirping in agreement with the sentiment: The praise of G-d may my mouth speak, and may His Name be praised by all living beings forever.

And I write my Afternoon Pages, because I neglected my Morning Pages; but I try to approach them as “their own thing,” as Afternoon Pages, a Moment in themselves, not just a substitute, a make-up appointment. “Don’t let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good.”

An old woman in a deep purple tracksuit takes slow steps toward the bench facing me; her older daughter and her caretaker both smile gently to match her, and they apologize to me for “disrupting.” Mah! Zeh bich’lall makom tziburi, bruchot ha’ba’ot! What are you saying?! It’s a communal space, welcome!

I wonder how long I had been immersed in my own mental orbit, binaural beats and a marathon Phish playlist, before I paid attention. To pay attention, la’sim lev – “to place heart.” Where have I been placing my heart? And is it at home there?

I say goodbye and thank you to the women, my partners in pause. The walk home is downhill, and I tread in careful, long strides, my worn Naot maintaining impressive traction. This time I haven’t taken anything; I am still working my way through other borrowed novels.

Once the pile is donated, I do not know what else I have to give, besides attention, besides “heart.” The thing is, you can “place” your heart without giving it away. You can rest it there, wherever, in between the give-and-take. Kach v’ten. None of this is mine and all of it is right here, right now, just for me.