"I thought you should know," he said to me, "that your hair looks funny. It's standing almost straight up." It was 5:40 am.
"I know that already," I replied. We had just finished saying Slichos. For some reason, his remark seemed completely rational to me. "I took my shower before I went to sleep. It was like this when I woke up."
"Huh. Maybe your t'fillin will flatten it."
That was the plan. Well, as much of a plan as I was capable of at the time. The fact is, I am exhausted. It may not be a secret to my regular readers, but I have never been much of a "minyan" man. I have actually spent much of my adult life studiously avoiding minyan. I have had many good reasons. During my residency training, I frequently spent the night in the hospital. And other days I was expected to make rounds before the minyan would even start. And since starting practice, I've also found myself in the hospital daily at very early hours.
But I would be lying if I told you that I had missed going to minyan. I didn't enjoy it, and I had a good excuse to avoid it. I may also have let it slip that the thing that I dreaded most about the impending death of my father these past few years was the looming obligation of going to minyan three times a day to say Kaddish. I didn't know how I would find the time, and even if I did, I didn't know if I could stand it.
As it turned out, I ended up embracing the minyan vigorously with both arms and a leg or two a few months back. I surprised even myself with my ferocious dedication to it. And even more surprising has been the fact that...I like it. I like going. I like what I'm doing. G-d help me, I even like the people I'm spending all this time with. People I see more often than my wife, as one Rabbi proudly chided her.
Much like embarking on a new exercise program or a strict diet, I am getting a sense of accomplishment, a boost to my self-esteem, an indication that I can approach the sheer wall, and with enough determination and self discipline, I can scale it.
But it doesn't mean that this has been easy. I started this in May, when the sun was up by 5 am and so was I. As it has gotten colder and darker, it has been more of a challenge to rouse myself, shower, brush my teeth, and make it to shul by 5:45 to start the service. But I've done it.
And then, two weeks ago, they started saying Slichos. And minyan was pushed up to 5:15. And I started getting up at 4:30, when it was pitch dark. And still I roused myself.
And now, minyan starts at 5 am. And I have forgone my morning shower and just roll myself out of bed, with my unruly hair, and make my bleary-eyed way to the car and to the shul. And I'm trying very hard to get to bed by 9 pm, but there are many other demands on my time, and I'm not really making it. And I'm becoming very aware of the fact that I am increasingly sleep deprived and possibly getting sick.
It really feels like someone is stacking the odds against me. Oh, think it's easy, do you? Try getting up thirty minutes earlier! Now forty-five! Now try to get to mincha over lunch!
So I wonder. Is this what it's supposed to be about? I always thought the Holidays were hard, but it seems in retrospect they were a lot easier when I was a heathen. Am I supposed to be wearing myself this thin? Can I make it to the end? Will I have the strength to keep going at the end of my 11 months of Kaddish?
I looked at myself in the mirror a little later. The t'fillin had flattened the hair over my forehead, but two stubborn tufts remained standing on either side, like a pair of horns.
I'll make it. If I've got to look like an ox, I might as well be stubborn as one.