Guest post by Rivka Nehorai (aka Mrs. Pop Chassid).
When I was a junior in highschool, I was given a choice: be a part of a relay race in a highly competitive meet or observe my religion. I was Sandy Koufaxing on a much smaller scale. Every time prior to that day, as part of the high school track and cross country teams, I chose the latter.
I would always leave early on those Friday meets, to return home to light candles and bask in the stillness of being while my teammates ran around in circles with parents and coaches boisterously cheering them on.
But that day, as I glanced at the sun hovering threateningly, one of my coaches approached me from across the field, motioning me to sit down next to him, as he solemnly, almost secretly, disclosed their deep need for my running legs that day.
“Can you stay, just this once?” He implored, and I barely hesitated, the pride at being so needed and important swelling within me.
“Today…” I promised, nodding my head, “…today I’ll do it.”
The meet dragged on, the sun darkened and darkened and darkened, and for the first time in my life since I was young, I was out on a Friday night, past sundown, as if it was just a normal day of the week, not the opportunity for the holiest and most sublime connection possible.
My race, the 4 x 800 relay, finally approached, and the gun went off. Nerves bustled through me as I, the second leg of the relay, watched my teammate begin. She, an impressive and promising freshman, was making great time. Pressure and expectation weighed on my shoulders. When she passed me the baton, my legs jolted forwards and I found myself hitting a very fast, solid stride.
With amazement I found myself passing another runner who was renowned for her times, as my legs kept on pumping. As I completed one loop of the outdoor track ( 1/4 mile), I could hear the shock and excitement as my coach read me off my split time. Wonder and determination filled my own body as my legs kept on pumping, my arms firmly, strongly, pumping as well, back and forth. I was exceeding my previous best times by a incomparable, astounding degree. With a little more than 100 meters left, I was running a state qualifying time.
As I turned the last corner, with 100 meters left to go, I hit it. The wall. I could barely move. I felt my body awkwardly hitting against itself, trying to propel me forward. I was sputtering.
Everyone passed me by. 5 meters before I was to hand off to my teammate, as I saw her through my blurry vision desperately cheering me on, jumping up and down, I fell. I collapsed. I blacked out for a moment. I couldn’t finish. Though my teammate ran backwards to grab the baton from its fallen place and jostled off, it was too late. My team was disqualified from the race.
As I heard stories about my amazing race from parents and coaches watching from the sidelines, they exalted me as an exemplary example of “giving it all I had”. True, I didn’t finish. And true, I could have paced myself better. But my G-d, I ran a race out there. I laid myself out on that track and gave it every breath I could.
For years later, I looked back at the race with pride. For I had given it all I had, and that was commendable, right? Wasn’t that the goal of our life? To give it all we’ve got? To not have anything left?
And then, one day, years later, I looked back at the race and I saw something else: There was no pride in the race; I had broken Shabbos. I had cheated on the thing that was most precious to me in life.
Some days, I try to get a lot done. I run around, taking care of two little kids, going here, going there, doing laundry, dishes, meal planning, going to an event, yada yada yada, and this feeling of accomplishment surges through my body.
“Look at me!” I feel my body saying. “I’m Superwoman! I’m getting So Much Done! I’m being so Productive.” The funny thing about productivity is that it’s accompanied by this self satisfied pat on the back and a silent internal ringing of, “By G-d, I’m awesome!” This feeling of self satisfaction is great. The feeling that even though my nerves are on the edge of collapse, I haven’t collapsed yet. I’m holding it all together, juggling it all, getting it all done. And this feeling of depletion, of giving it all I’ve got, feels so right.
But then something happens. For as the juggling continues, and the depletion increases, my husband wants to talk with me. And my whole body rages, irritation surging up within me.
“Look at how much I’m doing! Look at how much I’ve done! I’m EXHAUSTED! And you expect me to be friendly? To talk with you? I’m tired.”
And I find that the same thing is happening in another form; I’m putting myself all the way out there on the track, I’m doing things. I’m giving it my all. But I’m forgetting to save my energy for that which is most important to me.
I have made a silent note to attempt to stop chasing that feeling of Being Superwoman as often, for I have found it has only brought me trouble; though an internal part of me (and perhaps even others watching from the outside) cheers me on and says, “You are Awesome! Look at how much you are doing!”
I try to remind myself that life isn’t about depleting yourself until you can’t give anymore and then you crash. Life is about filling yourself up, and feeling calm and full, so that when the most important things in your life come to you, you have what to give at the right time and place. We can run circles around this Track of Life and gain admiration from outsiders… or we can take it slowly, skip out on some accomplishments in order to have a connection with the Real Stuff. Slow and Steady wins the true race.