Once upon a time, my mornings were in ruins. The story goes like this:
For better or worse, I'm an early riser. My inner quotidian clock is set to go off about ten to six each morning, and no matter when I get to sleep, my eyes snap up like window shades by 5:55.
In years gone by, this had been a wonderful blessing. I'd rise, have coffee, doven out on the porch -- in the fragile, tender hours of anticipation when the world's expanding into light and I was the only human being on earth and the birds in the trees were madly singing. Then I'd straighten up the house, put in a load of laundry, water the flowers and have another cup.
By the time the clock struck 8, everyone in the family would have gone for the day and the house was all mine again, as was the day itself, stretching out before me towards a beautiful unknown like a vast uninhabited plaza with a hazy pink horizon line. I'd once heard it said that if you doven first thing in the morning, you establish for yourself, for the rest of that day, the fact of God's existence, and that the only reality is God, and that everything arises from His Hand and is infinitely good.
This, indeed, was my consciousness, and somewhere inside myself, no matter what happened, I was so happy.
What wiped out this happiness? My Outlook Express Email Program.
And what restored it? An e-mail.
* * *
Don't think that the happiness got wiped out overnight. After subscribing to an Internet server, it must have taken a few months, or at least several days, for the new habits to take root. At 5:55, first thing after saying Modeh ani and the morning blessings, I'd wonder if anything important or interesting had come in during the night, and would sit down with my first cup of coffee to check email as the stars went out. The amplified electronic purr of the dial tone over the computer audio system, followed by the switch, as I sat there waiting, to a differently-pitched hummingbird frequency (the signal that Netvision was now scanning the universe in search of my user name and password) which then dropped and flattened out for two and a half seconds into a long-distance drone... whereupon suddenly the magic point would be located, and slipping upwards, we'd gain entry into the bright Internet Kingdom!
This reliable, unchanging daily pattern of signals gradually became a kind of music to my ears, infusing me with hope, much as the mad chorus of birdsong once had. I got used to these patterns. They became the familiar constellations and celestial landmarks of my inner world.
If, indeed, I was then greeted by the news, "You've got mail," proving that there were People Out There who thought enough of me to send me messages, I was reassured of my existential importance. I got mail, therefore I am. Modeh ani, thank you God, for sending me email, in kindness. My mother taught me that it's impolite not to answer when spoken to, so there was no choice but to reply to the letters. The replies would elicit responses, and the responses, more replies.
There were political mailings asking me urgently to write indignant letters to CNN, and jokes which had to be laughed at and forwarded to others, so that their immune systems, too, could benefit.
Later on (after quickly checking my email once again to see if anything important or interesting had come in while I'd been making breakfast) when everyone in the family had left to -- I suppose -- lead daily lives, I'd quickly straighten up the house to promote my peace of mind during dovening. By the time I finished housework, though, my stomach would be forlornly declaring its emptiness, so I'd quickly make myself something to eat so as not to be weak or distracted while praying. By the time I finished having breakfast, an important errand would come to mind which had to get done that morning. So I'd tuck a siddur into my purse while rushing out the door, and since there usually wasn't time en route to finish all the dovening, I'd throw a kiss to God as I got off the bus. I knew He'd understand.
* * *
One day I was feeling particularly shallow, empty and insecure. I felt confused and disgusted with myself. I felt timid and shy. I felt tired. Did I need vitamins?
The house had gotten dusty. A Tower of Babble of paper had arisen atop my desk, and two Towers of Babble of dirty dishes rose up from the kitchen sinks, one for milk and one for meat. It dawned upon me that some serious housework might make me feel better, so I sat down at my computer with a cup of coffee to get energized. What better place to start, I thought, than right there at my fingertips? I'd sweep out my Inbox and the "Sent" file, and clear out "Deleted" of all its old messages.
First things first! So before getting down to work on the ambitious task I'd set for myself, I checked Outlook Express for any urgent or interesting emails that might have come in the last twenty minutes. (There were none.)
As I was clicking, "Yes," "Yes," "Yes," "Yes," "Yes," to "Are you sure you want to permanently delete this message?" that's when something caught my eye. Amidst a long line of previously unopened messages from somebody by the name of Y.Y. Jacobson, the following words jumped out at me:
If, upon awakening, we first eat a piece of cheesecake and run to check our e-mail we allow our basic physical instincts to gain primacy in our lives. As the day lingers on we may find ourselves shallow, empty and insecure...
What was that?
I stopped, backed up into Recycle Bin, and located the email I'd just deleted.
Most of us routinely experience two types of days: good ones and disappointing ones. The good days are filled with confidence, clarity and purpose. On such days we approach our struggles with an elevated attitude and view every challenge as an opportunity for growth.
On other days, however, we are overtaken by insecurity, doubt and a sense of emptiness. We don't feel content with our place in the world and lack the motivation to make a difference.
What is it that bestows upon one day a magical beauty, while another day -- identical more or less in its schedule and events -- is meaningless and depressing?
The Kabbalah attributes our fluctuating moods to the fact that we each possess two contrasting forces within our consciousness: one is selfish, insecure and confused; the other is full of light, clarity and idealism... These two polar forces are defined as the ego vs. the soul, or the beastly consciousness vs. the transcendent spirit... If we commence our day by accessing our higher self, our Divine soul, then the remainder of the day will be inspired and animated by the vision, the clarity and the serenity of this spiritual light within us.
However, if we initially allow our external beastly consciousness to take the reigns in its hands as we open our eyes and rise from our beds, then the remainder of the day will usually be controlled by the whims, insecurities and fears of the lower self abiding in our hearts... If, upon awakening, we first eat a piece of cheesecake and run to check our e-mail, we allow our basic physical instincts to gain primacy in our lives. As the day lingers on we may find ourselves shallow, empty and insecure.
...If one wakes up and, contrary to his animal instinct spends an hour in meditation, study and prayer, he can then turn even the most difficult encounter during the day into a positive and growing experience...
* * *
I made a rule for myself. Please God, I prayed, give me the strength to do this!
Next morning, at ten to six, the magnetism emanating from my laptop was so intense that the only way to overcome it was to get out of the house ASAP and catch the 6:10 bus to the Kotel . Running to the bus stop, I was thinking how much God must love me, the only one in the world who would get up while it was still dark to doven at the Wall. I'd have Him all to myself.
To my surprise, however (and I must admit, disappointment) the #2 bus to the Kotel was packed. My competitive sibling instincts were aroused. I wanted to be my Father's only child.
When we arrived in the Old City and disembarked, what did my eyes behold as I hurried along with my fellow passengers towards the large plaza that opens out onto the Kotel? A crowd of people already at the infinite horizon line of the Wall, as large a crowd as any that might be expected at noontime's peak. How long had all these people known what I had only just discovered?
I did have the Almighty all to myself that day, after all, as did everyone else.
As do you. Every morning.
Blessed are you Oh, God, our God, Who instills such longing for You in Your people! Blessed are You, Who gave somebody the words that could draw me away from the computer's glow into the wondrously tender first lovely light of day! Blessed Are You, our Father, our King, Who incessantly sends messages to each and every one of Your children, and receives, and saves, everything we say to You, with love!
Sarah Shapiro is the author of Growing With My Children: A Jewish Mother's Diary; Don't You Know It's a Perfect World?; "A Gift Passed Along: A Woman Looks at the World Around Her," (Artscroll) and the Our Lives anthologies, of which Volume 3, "The Mother in Our Lives," was published recently by Targum/Feldheim. She writes regularly for publications in Israel and the United States, and teaches writing workshops in Jerusalem.