Rest, In Good Conscience

Thirteen years ago I quit my “day job” as vice president of marketing for a local hospital in order to launch my coaching practice full-time. During the first week I had a conversation with God. (Before you call me crazy, know the conversation was, or at the time seemed to me to be, one-sided.) I promised God that I would work as hard as I had to for six days a week in order to make my fledgling business successful. On the seventh day, though, I promised to”honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

I was reminded of my promise to keep that Commandment after reading an opinion piece by the renowned professor of neurology and author Oliver Sacks in the New York Times’ Sunday Review. The article, entitled “Sabbath: The seventh day of the week, the seventh day of life,” highlights Dr. Sacks’ own tradition in his Orthodox Jewish family of origin. During his childhood the Sabbath, or Shabbos, was a day during which no work was allowed, not even the use of the telephone, although his parents’ roles as physicians gave them special dispensation so they might be available to their patients. The day began around midday on Friday and the family gathered in the evening just before nightfall to light candles and say prayers. Saturday meant services at the synagogue, men seated downstairs and the women upstairs. The rest of the day was spent with his extended family.

In my faith tradition, the Sabbath is on Sunday. I can remember a time when most stores were closed on Sundays and commercial activity came to a screeching halt. “Blue laws” prohibited the sales of liquor on a Sunday. In our family, like Dr. Sacks’, we were expected to put work and play aside, attend services and spend family time together. We understood that this time was apart from the rest of the week and although we kids sometimes grumbled, there was something special about knowing that day was just for us.

Tiffany Schlain agrees. Ariel Schwartz, senior editor at Fast Company magazine, wrote about Ms. Schlain’s commitment to setting aside one day a week during which her young family unplugs from all digital devices. The article, entitled “Instead of a Digital Detox, Why Not Take a Weekly Tech Shabbat?” includes this link to a short film called “Technology Shabbat” from a series Ms. Schlain created called “The Future Starts Here.” Ms. Schlain, a self-described mother, film-maker and founder of the Webbie Awards, admits to being only “culturally Jewish,” not necessarily religious, but says she loves the rituals of the Jewish faith. So she and her family for the past three years have honored the Sabbath by refraining from using any technical devices from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The result? Time to be a family, garden, rest, read and enjoy each other’s company. An added benefit, she says, is that when Shabbat ends, everyone comes back to their labors and their laptops, refreshed and renewed. “The Technology Shabbat has changed my life,” she said.

Dr. Sacks completed his memoir, “On the Move,” in December 2014, only to learn that he has metastatic cancer. Now weak and coming to the last days of his life, he wrote in his opinion piece in the New York Times that his thoughts focus “increasingly not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life,” he writes, “achieving a sense of peace within oneself.” He says his thoughts drift to the Sabbath, the day of rest, “the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well,” he writes, “when one can feel that one’s work is done and one may, in good conscience, rest.”

A day of rest. Unplugged, detached from technology, from the perpetual concerns about survival and commercial gain, focused on the things and people that renew the spirit. That’s what the Sabbath means to me. I organize my time, and my life, to make sure I leave that one day to honor the Creator. I carve out time to worship with people who share my faith, observe the rituals and devotions that sustain me. I take the day off because I figure, if God can create the world in six days and then take a day off, so can I.

The City that Never Sleeps

We are just back from New York City, the City that Never Sleeps. It’s taken me a few days to catch up on my own sleep after logging hours and miles on the subway, visiting the Whitney Museum of American Art (usually just referred to as “The Whitney“), the New York Public Library, Central Park, Union Square, Chelsea art galleries, Hell’s Kitchen and most importantly, the campus of Columbia University where our beautiful daughter graduated with honors. Grateful to our hosts, Dwight and Colleen Olson, who moved lock, stock and barrel from Cleveland to Brooklyn in order to be close to their grandchildren, we traversed the city from one borough to another, marveling at the art, the energy, the diversity and the overwhelming sights and sounds of the Big Apple.

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New York Public Library

There’s something about New York–ask any New Yorker. Where did Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a woman of unlimited independent means, choose to live out her life? Actors, writers, artists–they gravitate to New York City. People with means, who want to be where the action is, find their way to New York. Woody Allen has used the city as a set for most of his movies. Carrie Bradshaw made it her own, professing her love in every episode of “Sex and the City.” New York comes with a playlist, and I couldn’t help bursting into song without provocation: “Start spreadin’ the news…” or “They say the neon lights are bright on Broad-WAAAAY…” And when we thanked our hostess and insisted we reciprocate, asking “Won’t you come to Chicago?” she demurred with a smile, “No, thanks.” After all, what’s in Chicago that you can’t find in New York? (Besides us.) They call it “Second City” for a reason.

Now that I’ve nearly recovered from the trip, I’m left with images, impressions, judgments and a new kind of longing for that wider world where it seems anything goes. You can find any kind of food there you might want to eat. If you grew up feeling “different” for any reason–gay, bisexual, transgender, shy, outrageous, immigrant, glamorous, homely, tatooed, awkward–New York is a place where you fit right in. There’s poverty and fortune. Little old ladies are dressed up in their Chanel suits and propped on a bench in Central Park next to their caregivers who are in turquoise hospital scrubs and texting on their phones. Fifth Avenue should come with a warning label: Window shop at your own risk, and beware of deep-seated envy. Beautiful girls, handsome young men, moms and dads pushing strollers, the theater-hungry, the arts aficianado, parents walking their kids to school, older couples drifting arm-in-arm toward their apartments: they all have a place in New York City.

Could I handle that pace for very long? I don’t know. Just as the city nurtures and nourishes, it depletes one’s reserves. Perhaps if I, too, lived in a cozy brownstone in Brooklyn or on the seventh floor of an old building on the Upper West Side, I’d find my place, get my groove, fall into the rhythm that beats louder than the drummers in Washington Square Park and with all the force of a train pulling into Grand Central Station. When we stopped at that venerable landmark to admire the clock and the ceiling and to grab a cold drink, my husband observed, “It sure is crowded here.” Wryly I replied, “Where do you think we got that saying, ‘Man, it’s like Grand Central Station in here!’?”

And since said husband is an artist, New York has an even bigger appeal. There’s a gravitas to the city from an artist’s point-of-view, the ultimate destination for those who are fully committed to art. The galleries of Chelsea intrigued me with their clean, white spaces, almost antiseptic save for the art. The young assistants, each skinnier and more beautiful than the next, pored over their MacBook Pros, ignoring us unless we insisted on discourse. The unlimited menu of possibility, from events at the New York Public Library featuring famous authors to the rich choices of exhibits at the world-renowned museums, offers a tempting glimpse of what it would be like to live there.

But for now, back in our sleepy suburb of Chicago, I’m content to upload my photos and muse about a week that included graduation celebrations, Nathan’s hot dogs at Coney Island. a reading by Garrison Keillor at a local bookstore in Brooklyn and the loving connection of family and friends. Whether New York is on loan to me as a tourist or luring me as a potential residence, tossing its mane as the High Priestess of Art, remains to be seen. In the meantime, I have homework to do: my mission is to get my husband’s artwork out of our basement and onto a NYC gallery wall. Wish me luck!

[Masthead photo: Public art by Sol LeWitt, New York subway station]