Right now I am away from Maine; I’m in my hometown babysitting 3 of my grandchildren (ages 4, 8, and 11) while my son and daughter-in-law are away for a week – – the first time they’ve ever left their kids behind on a trip in 15 years of marriage.
This morning, since it was Shabbat, there was not the usual pressure of getting the kids up early, getting dressed for school, eating breakfast; ensuring lunches made and packed the night before were not forgotten; homework signed; and that carpool pickup was on time. Instead, we four lazed around in pj’s and robes reading, talking, and playing with plenty of time to spare until prayers started at the local shul (synagogue).
Then I heard a polite knocking at the door. The woman standing there introduced herself as the neighbor across the street.
“I heard you were in town,” she said. “I came by because I read your article (in a local magazine) about Maine and, well, I just wanted to meet you,” she said.
I don’t know what/who she was expecting, but dressed in my robe and looking decidedly frumpy, I was not it! The disappointment and clash of how she’d imagined my Pioneer Woman persona from the magazine article with the woman standing in front of her registered broadly on her face. So much for my 15 minutes of fame.
I ushered her in and she told me how much she had often fantasized about living such a life as the one I live in Maine (despite until recently being from Brooklyn, and enjoying the outdoors as long as it was only from a picture book), and asked me what was my favorite thing about living there.
I thought about this. There was so much I could say, but in that impatient way of New Yorkers, she only wanted to know about my number-one-top-favorite thing. This reminded me of the famous story of a gentile who, during Talmudic times, approached the two leading sages of the generation, Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel.
To Shammai he said he wished to convert, but only if the Rabbi could teach him the Torah while he, the potential convert, stood on one foot. Shammai, who found the request to teach the Cliff Notes version of Judaism an insult, rejected his request in no uncertain terms. So the man approached Rabbi Hillel.
“Rabbi, teach me the Torah while I stand on one foot!” he demanded. But instead of throwing him out, Hillel said, “”What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this–go and study it!”
What, l’havdil, could I say I liked best about Maine, while the inquisitive neighbor “stood on one foot?”
Alas, I am neither Shammai nor Hillel. While there are so many things I love, I couldn’t pick just one. These three came most strongly to my mind:
- Feeling safe.
- The purity of the air and water.
- The slower pace of life.
Let me elaborate.
Feeling safe: There is something profound about feeling safe. It promotes a sense of penetrating calm to one’s soul. It’s wonderful to not worry about locking one’s car, windows, and doors. It’s great to walk around and not worry about getting mugged or feeling vulnerable to harrassment. I never look over my shoulder. When I see or interact with a person unknown to me, my guard is not raised, nor am I wary nor do I feel distrust. The streets do not become unsafe after dark (because there are no streets! ha ha). I can walk anywhere, anytime.
The purity of air and water: It’s really interesting to think about this, but the best things in life really should not, and ideally do not, cost money. The things most basic to our survival, such as air and water in their purest, cleanest state, are free. It’s interesting to me that my hometown city’s treated water tastes terrible, and it costs money, because the further you remove something from its natural, original state, the more it’s corrupted, the less it resembles what it was supposed to be, and perversely, the more it seems to cost. I would challenge anyone, anywhere to rival the taste of the water that comes from our drilled well. You can taste the freshness and purity. It revitalizes the weary. To me our water tastes better than champagne; it’s truly the nectar of God. When I wash my hair in our well water, it comes out soft. My clothes get cleaner. My skin is clearer. I feel sated sooner. And our air! When I breathe, I make a conscious effort to really inhale deeply. My lungs feel cleansed with every breath, and the oxygen combined with the scent of evergreens, earth, water and rocks makes me feel truly alive. (You think rocks don’t have a scent? They do.)
The slower pace of life: When I was a young mother of toddlers, my kids fell in love with Sesame Street, and I loved it too. The characters are endearing, the scripts are well written. But in retrospect I believe the rapid-fire pace of little snips, and the mishmash of concepts (colors!numbers!songs!skits!feelings!facts!) splashed quickly and jaggedly across the screen are a recipe for over-stimulation and attention deficit.
When you’re in the city, that staccato pace never slows. It’s Sesame Street on steroids! I run around all day, rushing from place to place and from appointment to appointment, but at the end of the day I sit back and wonder why I don’t feel a sense of accomplishment. I feel tired and stressed, and I know I’ve been busy, but I can’t really tell you what I did or why I thought it had to be done right now, or else.
In Maine, I’m in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. People talk slower, they drive slower, they “accomplish” less. In the city, I’m so rushed, I don’t have the hours I spend in Maine to cut, dice and chop and cook from scratch, to watch a pot; to hang laundry instead of sticking it in the dryer (in Maine I don’t even have a dryer). And yeah, a dryer is faster, but my city clothes from the dryer don’t smell like balsam and cold sky and sunshine like they do from the clothesline in Maine, and I don’t have an inclination to think deep thoughts in the two minutes it takes in the city to transfer the wet clothes from the washer to the dryer like I do in Maine when it takes me 20 minutes to hang the laundry to dry outside, and another 15 minutes to bring it in. And even though it takes me 20 minutes in line in my post office in the city and 20 minutes in line in my post office in Maine, in the former I’m tense and impatient waiting. and appalled by the rudeness and inefficiency; in the latter there is no line but I’m still there for 20 minutes because I’m shmoozing with the clerk about fishing and hunting season and snowplowing and maple syrup and weather and her kids and mine.
And there are so many other things I love about Maine.
I simply can’t enumerate them while standing on one foot.
(Alas! Maine is, however, lacking in grandchildren.)