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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Stacking the Odds

"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.


cruisin-mom said...

I admire your dedication P.T. ...me? I will not do anything that compromises my hairdo.

Anonymous said...

I also admire your dedication. That said, I don't think what you're doing is what it was designed to be about.

Shira Salamone said...

"Tefillin hair." Yep, been there, done that. I forgot to comb my hair after laying tefillin this morning. You should have seen what I looked like when I went to comb my hair at the office. Eek! (And it's not for nothin' that I *never* take off my jacket in the office until at least 11 AM--can you imagine what the Black Hatters in my office would say if they saw tefillin-strap marks on a *woman's* arm?! I joke with the Punster that, if we ever become Orthodox, I'll have to wear long sleeves and a hat just to hide the "evidence.")

Kudos for your new-found self-disciple. Our shul starts morning minyan at 7, and I *still* rarely get there on time. Not to mention that I just can't bring myself to wake up early on Sundays, so I'm davvening Shacharit only six days per week. I'll get there eventually.

Doctor Bean said...

What do you think your dad would want you to do?

The second you want my advice, you let me know...

Tuesday's hubby said...

After Slichos and Chol Hamoed, 5:45 will feel like a vacation. Also, after the time change in October Ma'ariv is over before dinner, and that helps too. Hang in there, you can do it.

fudge said...

woo-hoo! that's my dad!

ain't no dad like the one-eyed gott!

essie said...

Your dedication is very admirable. Keep it up! Gmar Chatima Tova

Tzipster91 said...

Why do you start so early? Oh, yeah, you take over an hour for shacharis. Me, I go to a shul where I daven in the playroom, and shacharistakes no more than 32 minutes on a long day, 40 for laining. But then again, they called davening for 6:10 tommorow. Time to figure out why my alarm didn't go off this morning!

Yashar Koach!

Chana said...

Haha. I've woken up and gone to class without brushing my hair far too many times to count. However, as a girl, the situation is a little better. You toss your hair, run your fingers through it, and after that it's "purposely" messy. So it's fine. ;)

Anonymous said...

Minyan, minyan man
I wanna be
a minyan man

(name that tune)

Good going. The hair sticking straight up is a look these days. Just say you planned it that way.

PsychoToddler said...


Shlock Rock, with their hit tune, "Matzoh Man".

Household Duck said...

You may sometimes have goofy hair but you're always a good example for the rest of us.

I finally figured out why the hard of hearing 92 year old in our Shul sits in a seat that is even worse for hearing... He's sitting by his wife's plaque. I would've never figured it out without Psycho Toddler.


PsychoToddler said...

CM: I will not do anything that compromises my hairdo

Always a wise philosophy for life.

Anonymous: Agreed. I don't think it's supposed to be about wearing yourself down to the bone or constantly trying to make things harder. But that seems to be the net effect, so I wonder if we're doing something wrong.

Shira: See, if you wore a shaitel like I keep telling you, you wouldn't have to worry about the 'tfilin hair.'

Now, my hair is so straight that it's almost
Asian. The tfillin straps give it some shape.

Doc: I don't think my Dad would be impressed one way or the other. My mom has already told me not to take the minyan too seriously. But I'm not really doing this for them. I'm doing it for me, and for my kids. I think I know what your advice is. Thanks, but I can rise to the occasion. Or at least my hair can.

Tuedays' Hubby (AKA my Bro-in-law): Don't get me STARTED about Chol Hamoed. Davening is going to go SO late that there's no way I'll be able to make rounds before work. That means I'll have to do it after clinic and most likely miss Mincha.

But I realize that everything will seem so much better after the Holidays. Couldn't we, I don't know, arrange things so that the Holidays are actually ENJOYABLE and not something I can't wait to be over with??

Fudge: Don't forget: "Therrre's, a bathroom on the right!"

Essie: Thanks! If you're ever in town you must introduce yourself.

Tzippy: We start early so I can go to work. Before they started this 5:45 minyan, there was NO WAY I could even consider attending a morning service, so I am grateful to the guys who attend it even if they don't have to be at work by 7am. Which is why I count to ten and cut them slack for going slower than I would like.

Chana: Yes, that "I've just emerged from the forest" look is very attractive.

DUCKIE: welcome! I'm here to point out things that nobody else really cares about.

Jack's Shack said...

Sounds like a good reason to shave your head. :)

dilbert said...

'round these parts we have 9:30 pm slichot the night before, which makes life a bit easier(not to mention the fact it makes me feel better when I dont make morning minyan, which is the vast majority of the time). I admire your dedication, keep it up, it will only get better(after the chagim). G'mar chatimah tovah to you and the entire clan.