Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Hidden Star on a Shabbos Night

My son came by for Shabbos dinner last night. He had an exam that was going to end at 3:00 in the afternoon.Eighteen minutes after candle lighting was 4:28 PM. Little did I know he had planned in advance that he would be on the train at the onset of Shabbos. Before he left in the morning, he planned out his strategy in case trains were slow or late. (Which they were)

At 4:00 PM he got off the train about six miles from his destination. He had a pen and pencil in his pocket which he left on a turnstile, along with $2.73 in bills and coins. Someone called out to him, not sure if he was forgetful, or just another nutty New Yorker. He didn't look back. He walked six miles back to our house.

While he was walking to our home, I was getting ready for shul at a minyan in the home of a sick friend. Like most New Yorkers, I have my own bubble in the sea of common space, delineated on Shabbos not by an i-pod or a cell phone but by a state of mind. Worries about my son tugged at my mind like a child on my long coat. Passers by dressed like me were to me like passengers on the same flight or train, a place in the mind where the reflex to jump for a phone or turn out the lights is replaced with a serene aloofness. The only thing I felt that resembles it is a blizzard carpeting the ground, absorbing sound and stopping traffic, making friends of passing strangers.

We usually shower and change into better clothing before Shabbos. A couple times in my life, medical emergencies have preempted Shabbos, and I have found myself in weekday clothes, handling money and operating motor vehicles at the onset of Shabbos. At such times I feel like a ghost, like an apparition in a world not mine. Shifting into Shabbos long after the sun has set feels like rushing in from a cold rain, feeling the warmth of a home prepared for Shabbos pushing the chill from my marrow.

There are moments in a train station when you are looking on the platform for family. Sometimes agreed upon attire makes the search through pressing crowds easier. When my son came home, the identifying attire of Shabbos was missing. He was dressed in weekday clothes.But in the dark of night, I could see the silhouette of a stranger. In the distance, I could not distinguish facial features. His gait was familiar, but I could not be sure it was him. When I saw that even without Shabbos clothes, my son was empty handed, not carrying books I felt a surge of pride, along with relief that he had made it to our door. He had exerted himself far more to honour the Shabbos than I had in the course of my predictable routine, having walked six miles rather than violate Shabbos.

Walking in the streets of Brooklyn, I am reminded by my son to look with appreciation at the buried treasures of the good passers by, strangers passing like cars on a country road bound by love and obligation to those sitting in warm houses. In my son's odd attire for Shabbos was a hidden story. I wonder as I pass strangers in the street how many hidden stories lie hidden from passers by,how many treasures of goodness lie unseen

No comments: