A lot of people are talking these days about how “over-programmed” our youth are. Kids come home with backpacks that threaten to tip them over filled with hours worth of homework. Before they can even begin, they are whisked off to dance lessons, baseball games, gymnastics, art classes, and more. And between all of those activities, they keep up with their social lives on the internet and through texting, and grab a minute or two to play with their computers, Xboxes, iPhones, and iPads. They aren’t playing stickball on the street during a pick-up game on a lazy Sunday afternoon; rather they are playing baseball on the field in a game organized months ago with parents screaming from the bleachers. And that homework isn’t going away.
I always feel a little bad to add to their load with their Hebrew school and Bar/Bat Mitzvah studies. Yet, I believe that it is vital that they learn how to prioritize and organize their time. They will need to figure out how to determine which of their activities they will need to skip or skimp on in order to be prepared for the things that really matter in any given moment in time. What makes it most difficult is the sudden disruption of their routine. They have a lot going on, but they know how to fit it all in. Suddenly you add in Bar Mitzvah lessons, and the whole thing just falls apart. How will they manage this new and very time-consuming commitment? How will they find the time to practice – even for just twenty minutes a day? There are NO twenty minute time slots as things stand right now.
Over the past couple of months, I have really had the opportunity to experience what this is like. Cantors have tremendously busy schedules. Without going into detail, I can just tell you that I work all weekend, have one day off a week, and that during weekdays, I am only home for dinner two nights. It’s okay. I’m used to it and I thrive on hard work. I am overscheduled just like those kids. But I have a routine and I know how to make it work in my life. Until you add one more thing.
I was invited to perform a recital of classical music for the Soirée Society at Nyack library. The concert was May 8th. I sing concerts all the time, but I haven’t sung a complete classical concert since my days at Oberlin Conservatory and I was little rusty. Not only that, since my appendix surgery, I had been finding that my vocal technique was suffering. I made an appointment with my voice teacher and headed to Hartford for a lesson.
It turns out that I needed to do some physical therapy to help me reconnect to my lower abdominal muscles after surgery. My teacher gave me some exercises and told me to practice them every day. I also needed to relearn the music because although I selected from my favorite music, it had been years since I had sung a lot of it. So I would also need to practice that every day, too. My teacher told me that I should take only one day off per week from practicing. I needed to schedule additional lessons with my teacher and rehearsals with my pianist. All of this in one of the busiest seasons that clergy have (Purim through Shavuot. Crazy. Just crazy). What was I thinking??
Fitting in that practice time proved to be a monumental task. What was I going to give up? My work wasn’t going away. I felt like I was preparing for my Bat Mitzvah – even though the music was entirely secular. (Actually, for me, music is never entirely secular because I find singing to be such a deeply spiritual experience, but that’s another blog post…) In the end, the concert went really well, but as with most things in life, there were many things that I could have done better – things that additional practice time would have really helped with.
One of the many lessons that I gained from this experience was a deeper understanding of what it is like for those twelve year old kids, walking into my office, preparing to add another huge commitment to their lives: a dedication to study, to tikkun olam (repairing our world through performing mitzvot), to perfection of keva (the words of prayer) and as much as possible kavannah (the emotional attention behind prayer). I tell them that part of becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is learning how to be a responsible adult – how to make decisions about how they spend their time in order to get things done. But I saw that despite my many years of experience at being a “responsible adult,” it’s not so easy.
Adults struggle all the time with time-management and that is just in keeping up with the aspects of our lives that are already a part of our routine. How do we expect children and their parents to manage the profound disruption that is the Bar/Bat Mitzvah process? More importantly, how do we help them make it MORE than a profound distraction and disruption from the normal – to make it a new and improved normal? To stop long enough to notice the miracle – the bush burns, but is not consumed. We fit more and more into our lives, and by choosing things of value, we somehow are not consumed by them, but rather find ourselves lit up from within – inspired, growing, alight, reaching up, upwards, beyond.