Summer is here in all its brutality. Reptiles sun themselves and mammals seek shade. Life takes considerable effort now, as it does during an East Coast winter. Nighttime gives no respite.
I’ve lived in the Valley for three years now, and I’m starting to understand the heat. I’ve learned the importance of hydration. I’ve figured out that grocery shopping needs to be the final errand of the day, and that chocolate is a seasonal vegetable. I’ve also learned that I can’t accomplish nearly as much as I plan.
I tell myself that I can do it all — be a loving, attentive husband and playful, focused father, make repairs to the house, run errands, work full days, and respond to each email within 10 minutes. I tell myself that I can meet everyone else’s needs and also my own. But the truth is that I cannot. In summer, I run out of steam before day’s end. The heat soaks into my muscles and turns them to jelly. “I’ll get to it tomorrow,” I think, as I set aside a project and go drink an iced tea. It bothers me, but not for long. In summertime, I simply can’t do all that I hope. Sometimes, I can’t even do what I need.
The problem isn’t my stamina. The problem is my expectations. I have too many of them.
Once temperatures drop, I’ll forget. I’ll continue to add to my “to do” list and spend my day off running around trying to cross it all off. I’ll blame myself for everything I don’t get done. I’ll convince myself that these things simply have to get done. I’ll tell myself that it’s normal — and it may be. But it’s not healthy. There is a better way.
The Sabbath comes like summer. It’s a moment in time for suspending self-imposed requirements. Instead of accomplishing, we relish simple joys. It’s a weekly reminder to let your foot off the gas pedal, to stop and savor the fun of life like family, play and sticky food. We cease work and productivity. We set aside the “to do” list. We dine with friends and drink wine. We play with kids, read books and go for walks. We sleep and laugh and sing. The Sabbath is an antidote to the frenetic pace of contemporary life.
Our society is all “go.” We work nonstop. When we do get a break, we maximize our fun and thereby defeat the goal. In so doing, we have become highly productive but we’ve lost track of life’s joys. The hectic pace we lead isn’t healthy. What’s true in summer is true throughout the year: It’s important to know our limits. It’s important to set aside time to replenish ourselves. Let’s remember that once the weather is lovely again, summer teaches: you can’t do it all. In fact, your “to-do” list is an illusion — much of it doesn’t need to get done. The world will keep spinning, your family will be fine, your friends will still like you. For every item that doesn’t get done, you’ll instead lower your blood pressure, grin from ear to ear, discover a forgotten interest, make a child happy.
This summer and throughout the year, I challenge you to set your sights lower, to create the space in your life for fun and relaxation. By slowing down, you’ll actually get more out of life.
• Rabbi Dean Shapiro is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of Tempe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his “Rabbi Dean Shapiro” page on Facebook.