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I’ve Been to the Mountaintop

And it was cold. And snowy. A blizzard, actually, and the winds were so strong that despite the gravity and despite the skis and despite the thick wet snow we were stopped in our tracks. And my gloves were soaking wet, inside and out, and the mountain was steep.

But I didn’t mind.

Because my husband and I were on the mountaintop without our kids.

And we peered at each other through foggy goggles and skied down to the Promised Land. Of ten hours of uninterrupted sleep. Of reading novels, all in one sitting. Of eating what we wanted when we wanted. Of adult conversation. Of quiet. Of hiking and long baths and did I say sleep? Sleep. And sushi and mango ice-cream and movies.

Vacation. From the Latin vac re (variant voc re), to be empty. A strange root; I had always thought of vacation as being filled, like sitting down to a good meal and re-energizing, filling the tank with gas, moving from a state of depletion to a state of fullness, rejuvination. It is a strange notion, to think that we need to be emptied, rather than filled. We are always trying to be filled, and to fill others, and to fill time, and to fill space. On the four hour drive that took us from one life, that of parents, and one climate, spring, to another life, that as a couple (it’s strange, isn’t it, that we wear wedding bands as a public symbol that we are in a committed relationship, and that there is no public symbol that we are parents, the most binding relationship of all? I felt like an impostor all weekend), and another climate, winter, my husband asked me what I was most looking forward to. I thought for a moment, and answered sheepishly, and honestly – “to forgetting.”

Is it healthy to forget that we have children? To empty ourselves of that which fills the most? I had pure moments of forgetfulness. They were few, and didn’t last, but they were, and they were joyous. Like long exhales in a yoga class, exhale fully, exhale the fullness, and empty yourself of breath, of memory, of the selves beyond your self, and, finally, of self. Abraham Joshua Heschel, writing about the Sabbath, says: “Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

Children, before they are born, are sparks of passion and potential, part of the mystery of creation, the empty eternal. Once they are born, they too are subject to the tyranny of things of space, and subject us to them as well – endless piles of laundry, fevers and stomach-aches, the infuriating cuteness of wide-eyed 6am awakeness, night after night of what should we make for dinner, and the endless variations on “are we there yet.” Now that we are living again in the blessed fullness of the tyranny, I see that it was good to be on the mountain, the storm and winds and cold all around us, and we, fully empty, silent and warm within.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

–Maya Bernstein