May 14, 2012

What is it about Bedtime?

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What is it about Bedtime?
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

What is it about bedtime? On the one hand it's an in-between moment: Daylight is fading, eyelids are drooping - a gentle goodnight seems natural. On the other hand, there is the "simple task" of getting a child to bed, tucking them in, and finally going to take care of "grown-up stuff." How difficult it is to preserve this escapable sacred experience.

And yet, if we rush we miss the very first "I love you too." We miss seeing in our child's eyes an emerging understanding of the world. We miss the blindingly holy uniqueness of this independent person if we look away too quickly. And it's so easy to be distracted.

What roots us in the moment? Ritual. A hug, the Shema, a shared story. The gift of saying Shema with a child is inestimable. No ringing cell-phone is worth answering when you and your child are truly present with each other. There is nothing to accomplish, no way to fail. All there is is wonder. Grandeur. Love.

And why limit this practice to parenting? Imagine the power of looking into the eyes of a loving partner, a beloved friend, and saying the Shema. So intimate, and such a relief from the tumult of the world. It's just easier to talk about seeing Infinity in a child's eyes, perhaps because they haven't come to feel limited by the burdens of adult life and a challenging world.

Every one of us, old or young, has the same eyes we did as children. They've just seen more. Internalized a world that is so much, too much, with us. We miss the sunset because it feels so far away. Not the child. Childhood is a time when we can draw an elephant being swallowed by a boa-constrictor, give the moon a hat for a gift, delight in an echo, and know for certain that wisdom lives inside ourselves.

In that moment when we say the Shema, we are children once more, effortlessly testifying to the infinite oneness as we bid each other goodnight.

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