It is 11:30 am, and I am sitting in a field in the middle of the Rocky Mountains surrounded by horses, trees, compost toilets, a bike blender and solar ovens. And Eli, who is dressed as a tree, sitting in a sleeping bag, his head covered in blankets and a music stand. Everything we need for our second program at Ramah in the Rockies…except for the kids.
This blog post is about letting go of control, about what it means to truly accept everything that we cannot change and take advantage of for spontaneity and improvisation.
Set for 9:50, the group was delayed coming back from a masa on horseback, leaving Eli waiting patiently (and snugly) for over an hour and a half and the rest of the group practicing, preparing and dancing around the bus. This was hardly the first moment where things did not go quite according to plan; yesterday our (valiant) attempt to climb the Rockies raised the engine temperature above the heat limit and we had to pull over on the side of the mountain…twice. It started raining while we were trying to paint the bus’s roof to add water protection. There have been parking challenges, miscommunications, failed attempts to find heckshered cheese and one particularly exciting adventure driving backwards down a one-lane dirt road.
On a cliché note, it is certainly possible to find something positive in each of these missteps, whether it was a moment to stop and appreciate nature, time for a mikvah adventure in the Platte river or just a ridiculous bonding experience. But on a little bit of a deeper level, each of these moments also faced us with something that is always true, regardless of how much we struggle with it: we are never in complete control.
Before we headed out to Ramah in the Rockies, one visitor looked our bus up and down and asked, incredulously, “You’re trying to get that bus there?” Warned several times of a 10-mile narrow, steep dirt shelf road on our path, I approached the drive with a new appreciation for the birkat ha’derech. We are not in control of anything, ad should take each moment as a blessing, whether it fits our plans or completely disrupts them. This is, of course, easier said then done, but it is a nice intention to hold as we prepare for our first full-day drive.
In the Shmitah year, we are asked to let go of control in a huge way. We stop intentionally growing food, putting faith in natural processes to provide for us. We open our gates, and let in and out whatever may come. And we trust. The Torah tells us that G!d will provide us with food for three years in order to get us through the Shmitah year. During one of our educator text studies, someone pointed out that this leads to the ultimate opportunity for skepticism: what if we look at our food right before the Shmitah year and it truly does not seem like enough? Yet perhaps it is not a matter of having a huge amount at the start, but trusting that it will go farther than expected.
Living in New York City, I have no animals to let free, no debts to forgive and only a houseplant to let lie fallow. I have spent this past week considering what Shmitah means for my life. On the bus tour, I teach a station about solar energy. I teach kids that the world holds incredible potential, that there is so much power out there that we can harness. But I also teach myself about lack of control. Some mornings are cloudy, sometimes we show up when the sun is already setting. Sometimes the staff eats all of my leftover cookies during our evening meetings. Yet would I teach the kids that they should stick to gas and electricity because we have so much more control over their use? Absolutely not. When we open ourselves up to our lack of control, when we let go of things we have so painstakingly tried to master, there is so much opportunity, and so much more peace with whatever comes our way.
On that note, we successfully taught a slightly abridged program to the Ramah 3rd and 4th graders, and got to learn a little bit about their epic live-action-role-play adventure. The day was cloudy and the (vegan) cookies were undercooked. But the day was no less sweet, and on the drive down the bumpy dirt road, Jacob and I caught the books as they fell off of our bookshelf, and I was able to finally stop worrying about the road as I watched the mountains come and go out the window.
– With love from Kansas!!