This I Believe

Judy - Attleboro, Massachusetts
Entered on October 11, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe that everyone has, at the very least, one perfect moment in their life-one moment they can re-capture in their mind’s eye and feel exhilarated, content, at peace.

I was first introduced to the wonderful Hebrew word “dayenu” while reading an application for employment at our small collector plant nursery on the Rhode Island/Massachusetts border. According to Wikipedia “Dayenu is a song that is part of the Jewish holiday of Passover. The word “Dayenu” means approximately, “it would have been enough for us” or “it would have sufficed.” This traditional up-beat Passover song is over one thousand years old. The song is about being grateful to God for all of the gifts he gave the Jewish people, such as taking them out of slavery, giving them the Torah and Shabbat, and had God only given one of the gifts, it would have still been enough. This is to show much greater appreciation for all of them as a whole. The song appears in the haggadah after the telling of the story of the exodus and just before the explanation of Passover, matzah and the maror. The word “day” in Hebrew means “enough” and “enu” means “our.” (end of Wikipedia quote)

In place of the usual curriculum vitae we ask potential employees to submit something which gives us a clue to what a person really enjoys in life, what gives him or her joy. Most often we receive this in written form, although people have given us beautiful works of art, collages of photographs, and this summer, for the first time, an incredibly delicious strawberry pie. (Yep, we hired her). While we obviously can’t hire everyone who wants to work with us we do get to meet and get to know, at least a little, some very interesting people. Last summer, a delightful young woman wrote of her joy at seeing a particular tree in its early spring limey green brilliance when she first ventured out of doors one New England spring morning. “Dayenu”, “That would be enough.” But no, there was more. She walked past the tree and there, around the bend in the path, were the solitary yellow flowers of a wild stand of coltsfoot, earning its nickname of “son before the father”, having pushed its flowers up before the leaves. “Dayenu” And that would be enough. But, no, there was more and then something more!

I loved this word. I used it as a chapter heading in my husband’s and my first book which was recently published. Heck, I wanted to call the book Dayenu – How Ordinary Gardeners create places of Peace and Sanctuary. I ran it by rabbis and every Jewish person who would listen to me. Would I offend, I asked our rabbi friends? No, according to even the most orthodox of the group. In the end, however, the publisher got to name the book, and rather than seeing it shelved under Judaic Studies instead of the Gardening or Spirituality sections, settled on Sacred Gardens. Nevertheless, I adopted “dayenu” as my new favorite word and perhaps expanded the definition a little. I decided I would apply the sense of “and that would be enough” to the moments that probably everyone on the planet has had at one time or another. Moments that are small but so full of joy, bliss, gratitude, what have you, that if you were struck by lightening in the next moment it wouldn’t matter because you would have lived a full, rich, wonderful life. “And that would have been enough.” I remember one night not long after my husband and I got together. It was a brilliant starry night. The sky was chock full of them. We were standing in the pasture behind our little antique farmhouse when my husband put on a Joni Mitchel tape and we started dancing, just swinging each other around, really. I remember being so filled with love, joy, contentment, that I could have died then and there. And been happy. I relive that feeling every time I think of that moment. A “dayenu” moment for sure.

I started to talk with people about their “and that would have been enough” moments. I would open workshops and lectures with the participants or members of the audience sharing “dayenu” moments. I would speak to visitors to our small nursery about “dayenu”. Some folks would easily share. Some couldn’t. Embarrassed, perhaps, that their moment was too mundane, too small, too unimportant to share. But I knew they had them. I remember speaking with two heavily tattooed young men who had been driving by on motorcycles. They had stopped in to see what the small tea room on our collector plant nursery was all about. They had a cup of tea and we starting chatting. Of course, I described “dayenu” to them. One of these tattooed, leather clad boys described a morning when he was out quahogging down on Narragansett Bay several months before. He described the way the water was so calm it looked like a silver plate that extended beyond his vision. He described the way the light hit the eel grass in the water near the shore. How it shimmered. He seemed to relive the moment as he described it to me. Nothing big. Just a perfect moment. Dayenu.

Several months ago I was enjoying an all too infrequent visit from two former Peace Corp friends, one who now lives in Thailand and the other who lives locally but spends much of the year traveling. Al, who lives locally, had been a volunteer in Ethiopia in the late sixties and early seventies. I was talking about “dayenu” moments, as always, and he described his first months in Awassa, Ethiopia, learning Amharic and studying the culture and history of the country. “I was having a hard time with the language and the food wasn’t agreeing with me. There were many other challenges as well. Awassa was one of the most beautiful places in the world but I never even looked at it because of all the stress and challenge. One night I went out with some new Ethiopian friends. On the way home I saw these people as real friends, which they still are today. I saw, for the first time, the beauty of the lake and the moon and stars as they rose over the lake. I knew, at that moment, Ethiopia was it for me. I cried.” Dayenu.

After talking with so many people about my so-called dayenu moments it seems to me that one or two elements were common in every single moment that people described –either the moment involved another person or there was some element of the natural world involved. Or both. And they were always small. No one had won the lottery. No one had a life changing epiphany. But the moment remained part of them forever. To call on whenever they wanted.

End with Joan Baez’s song about her relationship with Bob Dylan, “Diamonds and Rust”

Well I’ll be damned

Here comes your ghost again

But that’s not unusual

It’s just that the moon is full

And you happened to call

And here I sit

Hand on the telephone

Hearing a voice I’d known

A couple of light years ago

Heading straight for a fall

As I remember your eyes

Were bluer than robin’s eggs

My poetry was lousy you said

Where are you calling from?

A booth in the Midwest

Ten years ago

I bought you some cufflinks

You brought me something

We both know what memories can bring

They bring diamonds and rust

Well you burst on the scene

Already a legend

The unwashed phenomenon

The original vagabond

You strayed into my arms

And there you stayed

Temporarily lost at sea

The Madonna was yours for free

Yes the girl on the half-shell

Would keep you unharmed

Now I see you standing

With brown leaves falling around

And snow in your hair

Now you’re smiling out the window

Of that crummy hotel

Over Washington Square

Our breath comes out white clouds

Mingles and hangs in the air

Speaking strictly for me

We both could have died then and there.

…Fade out