My 5-year-old son just walked himself next door to play with the neighbors. Getting ready for the fifty-foot journey, with the temperature hovering around 12° and plow berms rising higher than he is tall, he fought with me. Sitting down may make it easier to get his snow pants on, but it’s screamingly awful that I’m right about that. The zipper gets stuck, and when I reach out to help he thrashes and flails against me. But when I don’t offer to help with the zipper on his coat, he stomps and pouts in frustration, feeling abandoned to his fate.
By the time I hold the heavy front door open for him, though, he’s forgotten about this wrestling match, and cheerfully runs up the sidewalk to let himself into his friends’ house. Their mom texts to say he’s safely arrived, and I settle gratefully onto the couch, relishing the quiet stillness of my temporarily childless house. It’s a “Shehecheyanu moment.”
I have, at various times in my life, made a practice of cultivating gratitude. In my twenties, I experimented with “100 Days of Beauty,” blogging about something that struck my senses every day. By the hundredth day, I’d awake already searching, anticipating the beauty I’d trained myself to notice. But by the 130th day, the challenge no longer named or deliberately embraced, my senses once again became dulled. The beauty of the Shehecheyanu is that it is prescribed, given to us so that we have no choice but to notice the beauty in our lives at regular intervals, to pause, to be grateful.
“Praised be thou, Adonai our G-d, for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.” Already, my son knows how to sing the Hebrew, and our friends know to expect it at special gatherings and shared holiday meals. But perhaps the most valuable lesson I took from PTJL was that any moment can be marked with the Shehecheyanu. A baby’s first steps – yes. The cold, clean taste of frigid winter air, and hot tea waiting in a warm house beyond – yes. My son, struggling to balance dependence and autonomy, confidently walking himself next door for a playdate – yes, yes, yes! Shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higianu, lazman ha’zeh. Amen.