11 Kislev 5781 / Friday, November 27, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayeitzei
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Moving Substance    

Moving Substance

"We leave this world, and we know that we're going to a better place. We’re tired, our bodies are far from perfect, but the separation is so hard...


I was so embarrassed. My neighbor's husband came into the apartment to ask us something just as the moving men began taking out the first boxes. "Is this also going?" one of them asked.
I nodded my head and burst into tears.
"Could you give us your new telephone number?" the neighbor asked.
I stealthily wiped away my tears and tried to smile as I wrote our new number on a slip of paper and handed it to him.
The neighbor left and my husband sat down next to me on our old fading sofa. "You ok?" he asked.
Yeah, I answered, struggling to control my emotions.
"Hopefully they'll move the sofa last, so we can sit here a bit more."
I tried to smile.
The living room was slowly emptying. Boxes, endless drab cardboard boxes, each one neatly labeled, each one containing a lifetime of memories, were piled – thrown, really, like old, worthless rags, onto the strong backs of the Arab porters, and carried out to the black emptiness of the moving truck. I felt as if the porters were dismantling my body, removing me piece by piece.
I had lived in this apartment for over twenty years. I had spent years (actually it seemed like centuries) of afternoons at the local park, chatting with the other young mothers, sharing our dreams, our hopes, while learning from each other the practicalities of making those dreams into a reality and forging the special bonds of friendship that are created through shared challenges. There were years when I could not imagine myself walking without a stroller or sleeping through the night. Twenty years of growth, of family, of life, wrapped into a hundred boxes, neatly stacked and (hopefully safely) deposited into the moving van.
I had been looking forward to the move. I had outgrown the neighborhood. My work, my children, my grandchildren, were keeping me busy, and I never, ever, spent my afternoons sitting with the young mothers (who were my children's age) at the park anymore. We wanted the convenience of a central location, where the married children could easily stop in for a visit, and where I could walk to work and walk to the Kotel, and walk almost anywhere I wanted to go. I had spent hours poring over the architect's plans, designing kitchen cabinets, ordering the closets, dreaming of making the empty walls into a warm, welcoming home. So why was I so sad? Why did I feel so empty?    
I looked around at the peeling paint, the cabinets that were falling apart from years of children crawling under the shelves and banging the doors shut (and bumping their heads in the process). The new apartment is so different; so full of light, with fresh white paint and shiny windows. The closet doors even shut properly and the shutters actually work! But the old apartment fit me like a glove. I had put my soul into it, and it had become me. I was comfortable there, while the new apartment was still an unknown – I had been there countless times, I had counted the floor tiles and checked (and rechecked, and rechecked again) the measurements, but it was still not a part of me, part of my reality. I had never really lived there.
"It's kinda like this world," I said to my husband.
"Excuse me?" He had no idea what I was talking about.
"We leave this world, and we know that we're going to a better place. We’re tired, our bodies are far from perfect, but the separation is so hard. Moving on is just so difficult."   
He smiled. "I think it's time for you to go already. There's no reason to remain here."
"You're right. I told the guy from the kitchen cabinets that we'd be there by eleven, and it's already ten thirty." I grabbed a few plastic bags marked miscellaneous and ran downstairs to a waiting taxi.
I cried all the way to the new apartment. I was leaving my home. A major chapter of my life was ending, together with its unique opportunities for personal growth and change.
When we purchased our new apartment, I hadn't noticed that our living room window faces the local cemetery. I almost fainted when I first saw the white, ghostly tombstones illuminated by the pale moonlight. How spooky! How could I live in a place where I'd constantly be reminded of the ultimate end to all life?
But now that I am living there (and yes, it's everything I was hoping it would be) I find the view, well, comforting (please don't call a psychologist; read to the end). Whenever I find myself getting bogged down by the trivialities of life, I look outside and am starkly reminded that my time here is much too short to waste on silly, empty things. So what if I couldn't find my favorite brand of cream cheese at the grocery store this morning? And what about all those things I so efficiently put away and then promptly forgot where I put them?  My unique view keeps me focused on the real, important things, the things that have meaning and substance. (Although I admit that yesterday I had a bit of a problem remaining focused on what really counts. The contractor finally arrived to install our shower door and then informed us that we couldn't shower for three days.)
Rebbe Nachman says that thinking of the day of death brings one to joy, as it says in Mishlei "And she laughs at the day of death." Huh? How morbid! But now that I am so starkly reminded – every day -- of the day of death, I better understand Rebbe Nachman's wisdom. Life is too short to waste on emptiness.
I outgrew my old apartment. The challenges and opportunities that were presented there are gone, and whatever I gained there I have taken with me to my new place of residence. With Hashem's help, may I be privileged to use my time here wisely, to remember where I am going, and rejoice in the real things in life.

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