Hooray to Leah Koenig -- of the best Jewish blog in the world (for today) The Carrot, blog on Jewish life, food and sustainability.
And by the way you know that this reminds us of the Shalom Auslander narrative,in his "Personal History" called "Playoffs" where the characters walk a long way on Shabbat to attend a hockey game! Koenig is so much more serious and meaningful -- really...
By LEAH KOENIG
When it arrived in my boyfriend’s mailbox last summer, the invitation to the September wedding of a college friend immediately posed a problem. “It’s on a Saturday,” he said, scanning the R.S.V.P. card. “In Maryland.” Saturday meant Shabbat — the day of rest when Sabbath-keeping Jews like him (and more recently me), abstain from driving, using electricity, spending money and engaging in the 39 types of “creative work” identified in the Torah. Dancing after the ceremony was fine. Traveling there by car was not.
Still, my boyfriend was determined to go while following Shabbat’s laws. The nearest hotel was four miles from the wedding. We could arrive Friday before dark, he reasoned, wake up late and walk to the midafternoon ceremony with time to spare. “Sure,” I said, when he asked if I would go with him. “Sounds like fun.”
As the day approached, my excitement about our journey began to build. I remembered a line from my days as an environmental-studies major: “Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation.” Was that Gary Snyder or John Muir? No matter. We’d walk the terrain that Shabbat afternoon and pray with our feet! When the day arrived, we set out from the parking lot of our hotel with enthusiasm and plenty of time to make it.
Less than a mile into it, however, it was clear that our route was not meant for walkers. The few existing stretches of sidewalk dwindled away, swallowed by the hot highway. Cars hurtled around sharp bends. But we continued, past gas stations and car washes. Past enormous housing developments and swaths of undeveloped land with For Sale signs sticking like birthday candles out of the soil. Make a wish! Buy your dream home!
One mile became two. Under the sun’s glare, the relaxing Shabbat evening we’d spent in the hotel slipped away, and so did my poetic sentiment. Freckles of sweat dotted across my boyfriend’s T-shirt as he trudged a few steps ahead of me. I thought about my slinky black dress, now crumpled in his backpack. Kicking a pile of dusty stones, I drained my water bottle, irritated that I’d neglected to bring reserves. The “not purchasing stuff on Shabbat” rule was still new to me.
“Maybe we could knock on one of the houses and ask to fill up,” he said. But the homes gave off an impenetrable air, like fortresses with cul-de-sacs. The manicured lawns were absent of children. There were no women in wide-brimmed hats aiming garden hoses at the begonias. Living in New York City for four years, I have grown accustomed to the clamor of pedestrians on the sidewalks. But the only people we passed were two young Hispanic women heading toward one of the houses from a bus stop. “They must be cleaning ladies,” I said aloud, alarmed by my assumption and the suspicion that I was right.
Around Mile 3, a rummage sale on the side of the road appeared like an unlikely mirage. “Did your car break down or something?” asked the man sitting in a lawn chair, surrounded by bric-a-brac. We assured him we were fine, throwing him shoulder-shrugging smiles. How, in exurban Maryland, could we explain that we were actually walking on purpose?
My thirst was starting to get serious when we heard the faint sound of drumming. It was celebratory, slightly militaristic. An S.U.V. streaked by trailing colored streamers; a high-school football game was nearby. We practiced asking for water as we approached the outdoor stadium. “Should I explain that it’s Shabbat and we can’t pay for a bottle?” I asked. My boyfriend said, “No need to answer that question if it’s not asked,” showing far more experience than I with moving through the world as an observant Jew. The woman at the gate raised her eyebrows, but she took the empty water bottle from me to refill it.
When we finally “pulled in” to the small farm where the wedding guests were gathering, I felt my dreamy naturalist euphoria return. “We made it,” I said, grinning. My boyfriend said, “Thank you.” I went into the bathroom, splashed more water on my face and neck and changed into my miraculously unwrinkled dress. Outside, I found him looking handsome in dress pants and a tie, coming from the bar with a drink for each of us. We quietly agreed not to bring up our walk to the other guests. The walk was ours, but the day belonged to the bride and groom.
Later that evening the late summer sun set, signaling both the end of Shabbat and the party. We hitched a ride with a guest back to our hotel — back past the stadium, the cul-de-sacs and the gas stations. I strained my eyes in the darkness, trying to catch familiar glimpses of the landscape now blurring by at 40 miles an hour. It took us more than two and a half hours to get to the wedding that afternoon. The drive back took 10 minutes.
Leah Koenig is a freelance writer and editor of The Jew & The Carrot, blog on Jewish life, food and sustainability.