October 29, 2012

Day and Night

The plane descended, submerging us into a thick gray cloud. Then, as if that were not enough, we entered a second set of gray clouds, much like double doors in a high-security building.  We were now officially socked in, severed from the bright sunshine above, and locked into a land where shadows barely appear. Welcome to England.

I had prepared myself for this grayness. Living in Israel, where the sun flexes its muscles across a bright blue sky, fingers sketching deep shadows and definition across desert and mountains, I knew this sojourn into grayness was temporary. After months of intense Israeli heat, I felt a week of gray could be, well, an anomaly and I decided to become a ‘weather tourist.’This was liberating in a way as I did not feel distressed by the bad English weather and, as an outsider to this palette of gray, I started to think about how this climate affects the English culture.  

As I stood on the train platform that day, I noticed a sliver of sun did manage to sneak past the high security cloud cover, softly resting upon a pale, wan cheek. Seconds later, it was quickly masked by yet another bank of cloud. How cruel, I thought.

When I davened the next morning, I understood one of my morning blessings in a new light (forgive the pun). Every day in the Birkat Hashahar, we ask to understand the difference between day and night and I had always interpreted this as seeking knowledge to differentiate between good and evil. But, as I sat with my prayer book in hand the next morning and looked outside, I was confused. It was 8 am, but where was the light? It could have been 5 am or 11 am or 7 pm. There really was no huge distinction between day and night. I felt I was stuck in an ‘in between’ place, where it is neither markedly day nor night; a place of confusion and of not really knowing where I am and where I stand.

As the day progressed, and the skies curdled and thickened, I kept this thought in mind. Since the English seem to exist in a state of semi-darkness, perhaps they behave accordingly. In this country, I never really know where I stand with people. Is it because they are afraid to reveal their true emotions? Were they really happy? Bothered? Content? Fulfilled? I could not read this on their faces or discern it from conversation. My sincere queries were often met with British humor, which confused me even more. Were they being serious? Were they joking? Were they irritated? Were they feeling pain?

And then I thought about Israel, the land of hot sunny days and ink black nights; a place where people wear their emotions on their sleeves. No gray. The emotional weather in Israel is visibly happy and filled with hugs, kisses and loud chatter, or sad, heavy with tears and audible weeping. It can be anger with black, smoldering words. If someone wants me to leave, I am dismissed immediately. If they are irritated, they tell me. I am not left guessing. With eight months of sunny skies, where a single cloud is a trespasser, our weather is direct and definitive.  And when the rains do come, thank G-d, they are thunderous and plentiful. Nothing in Israel is insipid.

In Israel, we know the routine and we are not hiding it from anyone.

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