by Melanie Gruenwald
At the beginning of April, we began counting the Omer, the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. As we count each day of the Omer, we are engaged in a process of ‘counting up’ and increased mindfulness of where we are on this journey from slavery to receiving the Torah at Sinai.
Qualitatively, what is the difference between counting up to a moment or counting down?
There are times in life that we count down—days until graduation, retirement, a birthday, or adventure. And there are times in our lives that we count up- like weeks of pregnancy or number of birthdays. We count up the Hanukkah candles, and we count up the days of the Omer.
When we count down, we are focused on the date at the end of the count- 6 weeks until a wedding…. 3 weeks until summer vacation… We are not fully in the present moment, even if we are immersed in the details of planning. We are focused on when we get to that specific time. For many of us, we set expectations for these times- “I’ll be happy when….” I retire, when I get married, when I get that job, or house, or lose those ten pounds. But what if we never get there? Does that mean the days we have been living are not worth embracing with joy or intention?
(What if there’s a world pandemic- and my wedding/birthday/ graduation/ retirement is not what I imagined it would be because we are all sheltering in place?)
On the other hand, when we count up, we are moving forward, and setting an intention with each step. It’s like a walking meditation. We count up to things that we don’t know the end date and we focus on the moment. How many weeks will I be pregnant? How many birthdays will I actually have? In general, this is out of our control.
When we count up, as we do on the Omer journey, we are setting an intention for each day. Not only are we counting up, but we also have the opportunity to make each day count. We can reflect on where we are, or where we’ve been. We can look ahead with hope, but we focus on where we are at this moment in time.
When I went through my breast cancer journey, and even more deeply, with my son Koby’s (z”l) cancer journey, I became keenly aware of how our family lived in time. We could neither live in the past or get too far ahead of ourselves. That was simply heart-breaking.
We looked at what was within reach. We were afraid to hope for the impossible. And yet, we planned. We counted up treatments. We planned experiences. We learned to live with intention, and in the moment, because we never knew what the next day, week, or month would bring.
My hope for each of us, as we approach Sinai on this holiday of receiving and revelation, is that we remember to count up and embrace each moment as it comes to us. One day at a time.