A month full of holy days is a month of pondering meaning and spirituality. Is my life meaningful? What does meaningfulness mean, anyways? Am I connected enough to Hashem? Do I have enough spirituality in my day-to-day? Do I feel inspired by the new year and all the yomim tovim it brings? Where have the holiness, the spirituality, the inspiration in my life gone? How can I bring them back?
These are big questions with bigger answers, but sometimes the best answer is a simple one. Those questions are all up there kinds of questions, but we live down here. According to Chassidus, Hashem didn't create the world and put us in it so we can live up there. That's for angels. He created us to bring his light from up there all the way down here.
Perhaps we feel inspired to bring down His light by asking the big questions and pondering the big answers, perhaps we even feel most connected to Hashem by doing so. But how we feel is different from what objectively is. Chassidus teaches us that the truer way for most of us to connect to Hashem on a daily basis isn't with our heads in the clouds, but with the soles of our feet planted firmly on the ground. It's about bringing Torah values into daily practice through mundane, divinely ordained tasks: mitzvos.
When I wear a sheitel on a hot summer day. When I remember to say a bracha over my breakfast. When I hold my tongue and speak respectfully to my parents. That's when I truly connect to Hashem. The deepest connection occurs when I do His will even when it doesn't feel particularly meaningful, even when I don't understand why it matters, even when it's hard. It isn't wildly passionate, it isn't divinely inspirational, it doesn't feel like fireworks exploding in my heart, but through these small, consistent actions, I can bring Hashem and his light into my life and into the world.
The relationship between us and our spouses is often compared to the relationship between us and Hashem. One way that these relationships are similar is that they are both built on the little things. Saying Modeh Ani takes ten seconds, but saying it every morning brings Hashem into your day from the moment you wake up. In marriage, the little things add up too. "I love you" takes three seconds to say, but how frequently or infrequently you say those three words can make all the difference.
Marriage itself is a spiritual union, a holy endeavor, an expression not only of a couple's love for each other but of Hashem's divine will for us to live together in peace and harmony. While I contemplate meaning and spirituality and connectedness to Hashem, my mind wanders to these things as they relate to my marriage. Do I feel inspired to grow in my marriage? Do I feel profoundly connected to my husband? Does my heart leap and bound when I glance at him from across the room?
Steven and I spend most of our free time in close proximity to each other; even when we're apart, we talk and text throughout the day. Still, how much of that constant contact brings meaning to our marriage? How much attention do we pay each other while we're sitting on the same couch but are worlds apart, he immersed in the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, me with my nose in Milton's Paradise Lost? He reading GQ, me reading Real Simple. He scrolling through Facebook, me double tapping away on Instagram. We tell each other about our days, and some days we go through side by side, but does that give us an understanding into each other's minds and souls?
Not really. Hashem is always there but that doesn't mean a lot if we don't do anything about it. Steven and I are often in close proximity to each other, but just being around each other doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot. I decided that the best way to add more meaning and deeper connection to our marriage would be to go the "small things" route. I wanted to add one little daily ritual to help us connect.
I thought back to a drama class I'd taken in high school. At the beginning of class on Fridays, we'd sit in a circle and do Highlights and Lowlights. Each person got a turn to share a "highlight", something particularly fabulous, and a "lowlight", something particularly unpleasant, from his or her week. I loved this activity.
This isn't an exercise in sharing an arbitrary event or experience, but one that forces you to assign hierarchical values to your experiences. This has the potential to reveal a deeper truth about you, your values, your needs, your likes and your dislikes. It is so much more than mere summary, it requires analysis, both from the sharer and the listener.
Whether this thought process was conscious or unconscious (I'm leaning towards the latter) I decided to implement a daily bedtime round of Highlights and Lowlights, or made even simpler by Steven: Highs and Lows. I know that at first he only cooperated to oblige me, but by now he initiates Highs and Lows as often as I do. It takes all of three minutes (if that) but this micro-ritual keeps us connected and bonds us in a small, but exquisite way.
Over Rosh Hashana, after I had finished davening on my own and everyone else was still in shul, I found inspiration and spirituality in the form of a book on marriage. Working on my marriage through learning felt like a meaningful way to spend my Rosh Hashana and connect with Hashem. I can't think of one concrete thing I learned from the book (though there were many at the time), but while I read, I was inspired to add a new element to our bedtime routine. I requested that expressing gratitude for "something nice you've done for me today" and sharing "something nice I've done for you today" be added to our nightly Highs and Lows.
Paying attention to the nice things Steven does helps me to feel a sense of gratitude towards him. He isn't a perfect husband, because no man is, but he does a heck of a lot right. By remaining focused on the good, I'm able to feel that there is goodness and holiness in my marriage and in turn, invite more in. It's also important to express gratitude because it allows me to feel the pleasure of the kindness for a second time and it allows Steven to feel appreciated for his efforts. It's also nice when I'm thanked for doing something small and finding out that it was a big deal to Steven. In being thanked, I am given a gift: the awareness of another small way to make my other half happy.
Sharing "something nice I've done for you today" also has its benefits. Paying attention to the things I can do for Steven helps me remain aware of my own role and responsibility in keeping our marriage afloat. I can't change or force his behaviour or his investment in our marriage, but I can control my own. It brings an awareness of what I can do for my husband and my marriage to my whole day. This activity also helps the listener be appreciative. Sometimes an expectation I have of Steven seems obvious and simple to me, but is so difficult and requires a lot of effort on his part. When the expectation is unmet, it's easy to complain. But because the expectation is so obvious to me, I don't notice when it is met, even when it is met with much effort. Sometimes it's hard to see the effort. When Steven lets me know what he did for me today, it helps me notice the effort he put into it and allows me to see that this simple thing took effort and the effort was made with love.
A high, a low, something I did for you, something you did for me. No passion and no flames here, but consistent, little actions build a great protective wall around our marriage. Like in our relationship with Hashem, the passion and inspiration might be the mortar that keeps the bricks together, unified and emotionally connected, but the little things -- making a bracha over a meal, expressing gratitude for loading the dishwasher -- are the bricks that fortify the wall.
As we go into Yom Kippur, my heart is not heavy with the weight of past sins. Rather, it is filled and lightened with gratitude to Hashem for giving us this opportunity to repent and with plans to do good, going forward, one small thing at a time.