The other day I was engaged in some pre-High Holy Day wordsmithing – what else would I be doing? I looked at some past notes and saw a favorite thought about Jews and Yiddish and what the language reveals about us. The standard Yiddish greeting is, “Vos machs du a Yid?” This doesn’t mean, “How are you?”, but rather, literally, “What are you making, bro?”
I suppose over the centuries wellbeing could be measured in what one produced, or what one’s skill set was. I began to think about that; what do I make? I can use tools, roll a Torah, cook a good meal without a recipe, drive a car, and so forth.
I think at this stage of my life and in this particular Universe, I have a decent enough skill set. I’m not looking for any new merit badges. The notion of a bucket list, so compelling for some people, ignites no fire beneath me. It’s not that I don’t want to go places and do things I haven’t ever done. But frankly, these days I don’t think about traveling, because I don’t know when that will happen again. I probably should be amassing a bunch of really inexpensive plane tickets and making reservations for a luxury suite in Jerusalem for the 2021-22 season. I’m sure I’ll be reading articles about the smart folks who strategically made plans and put money down.
On the one hand, you could argue that these past months have felt constricting, filled with compelling reasons to stay in place. The limitations are truly grievous, and I often feel angry about it, that I can’t see who I want to see when I want to see them.
On the other hand, and quite remarkably, the very experience of being cloistered has led me to a rather remarkable conclusion. My state of consciousness is growing. No, I’m not a Timothy Leary proponent, and this is not a psychedelic experience to which I’m referring. It’s my brain’s response to the closed-in nature of my existence to push outward, to expand. It could be what happens when one’s mind gets gummed up by a form of existential claustrophobia.
I was about to go off on an extended tangent about the amazing adventures in astrophysics I’ve been having. I actually have an astrophysics mentor who periodically sends me articles and videos and then has the enormous fortitude to field my essentially moronic questions about black holes and gravity and the spacetime continuum and so forth.
But I stopped. Because you probably aren’t reading this for a discussion on event horizons and singularities. And because the essence of my excitement, the feeling I truly want to share is that aging is not the dimming of the day. The life of the mind doesn’t seem to care all that much about mortality. There is no speed limit to learning, to expanding consciousness.
My daily hope and desire is that by the end of the day I will have acquired some new fact or concept, something that makes me pause and take a short breath, and say, “I never knew that!” It can something as superficial as a sighting in Djibouti of a weird mammal called an elephant shrew, which I’ve never seen or heard of. Or it can be as ridiculously intense and complicated as string theory or the hard problem of consciousness.
It is this accrual of information that pushes my consciousness further. Every new thing lights a torch that burns brightly. It’s a potent reminder that feeling restricted and cut off does not mean I am a prisoner of my fate. This period in our collective existence is intense and uncertain. But the boundaries end as soon as we embrace learning for learning’s sake. It is what gives us strength and illumines our paths.
Did you know that there are more stars than grains of sand on the beaches of the Earth?
Keep going. Keep growing.