I’m listening, but I can’t hear you.

A great Torah scholar was sitting in his home study, deeply engrossed in the portion of the week.  He was concentrating so completely, he didn’t hear the knock on his study door and didn’t notice that his father, another great Torah scholar, had entered the room. “Don’t you hear that the baby is crying?” asked the elder man.  His son, startled because he hadn’t heard him enter said, “I’m sorry, father.  When I’m studying, I don’t hear or notice anything outside of my work.”  The wise scholar replied, “There is something wrong with any learning that prevents one from hearing the cries of a child.”

I wish it had been studies that distracted me this week, but in many ways I felt like I was that engrossed scholar.  A variety of events collided that led to my being distracted to the nth degree, spending most of my time stressing, emailing, and talking on the phone, rather than focusing on my work or my family. Even when I was with my children, I found it infinitely difficult to be in the moment with them.

I am fortunate that my children were understanding and waited patiently for my attention. But as my internal stress level and their searching eyes reached what felt like an unhealthy peak, I knew I had to break the cycle we were in.  And I realized my children weren’t the only ones hoping for some attention. My soul was begging for it too as my energy ceased to be helpful or healthy.

That’s when I remembered another story:

There was a busy mother who was clearing away dishes and straightening up after a long day at work while her child tried to tell her something. The child kept asking his mother if she was listening, and she kept replying that she was, while still busily moving about the kitchen. But the child didn’t feel heard so he stopped his mother and held her face between his chubby hands. He said, “Can you listen to me with your eyes?”

With this story in mind, I turned off my phone and whisked my kids away (and I wish my husband had been able to come because he needed it too!) for a night, just down the road from our home. We ordered room service, watched cooking shows, ate cookies in bed, and went for a morning swim.  We laughed. We cuddled. We listened with our eyes.

I’m lucky that my circumstance allowed me to indulge with my children in such a way, but all of us need to find ways, big and small, to recharge when the going gets tough.  It could be as simple as watching a silly movie, spending the afternoon on the beach, baking cookies together, or spending the night in a tent in the back yard.  The escape doesn’t need to be long or expensive. But when we end up in a stress cycle like I did this week… when our families or our souls are asking to be seen, let’s not talk ourselves out of indulging a little, as we are able. After all, it’s what we do every Shabbat!  We save up, no matter how little or much we have, and allow one day per week to be as special as possible in what we eat, what we do, and in the amount of presence we allow ourselves.  This is no different.

No one can avoid times that lead us to being temporarily unable to hear the cries of a child. But when we find ourselves there, let’s remember the stories told here, and do something to break the pattern, even if it seems a little frivolous.  We and our families deserve it.

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