A Time to Stop

This blog is very unusual for a transport planner. I want to write about not moving. About stopping. Or not stopping, but being still.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is a time to make resolutions and look forward to things to come and make plans to improve ourselves, improve our contribution to our community and our world. But although I would be the first to admit that I could always do more, do better, I would not count a lack of forward planning among my greatest faults. In fact, I am perhaps guilty of too much forward planning at times. Always thinking about the next tasks I need to undertake for my research, or where the kids need to go, or what chores are to be done at home. Always asking what’s next, what’s the plan, what should we do this afternoon, tomorrow, next weekend, next holiday. More than that, I’m a transport planner who does take the time to think about how my discipline can change to tackle the challenges of the 21st century and what I can do to contribute to that debate in some small way.

Thus, as a holy day of new beginnings, it should have been easy for me, the planner, to get in the spirit of Rosh Hashanah. But it wasn’t. And I thought it was maybe because I was thinking too much about the future and all those notes in my diary in pages to come. For there is another name for Rosh Hashanah: the Day of Remembrance. A day to look back and remember what we’ve done that we wished we’d done better, to remember all the people that have come before us, in distant generations or recently passed loved ones. To remember to count our blessings and how lucky we are not to have personally suffered a debilitating illness or a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.

Yet to be honest, I don’t think that my inability to enter into the spirit of the holiday had much to do with a lack of remembering. Despite the weight of tragedy in current events, I force myself to follow the news closely, to not stick my head in the sand no matter how tempting. I appreciate the value of history and learning lessons from it, whether in my own research or as applies to society more generally. And I’ve been acutely aware of my blessings in the last year. Two healthy, happy children becoming ever more engaging and wonderful, a loving husband and extended family, a new professional role as a paid PhD researcher, and a comfortable home in a welcoming community, where I can afford treats as well as the basics. Somehow so far from terrorist attacks and natural disasters, I can’t help but feel lucky. And what can be more holy than counting one’s blessings and being genuinely grateful?

Well, then I thought about the other name for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the 10 days in between for good measure. They are collectively the Days of Awe. How does one feel awe? Not by looking behind or ahead, but by trying to be, to feel right now. Not by bustling or moving or talking, but by stopping. Finding that moment of stillness. That is what I have lacked in the lead up to these holidays. A medieval poem in our liturgy says that once the Shofar blasts, the still, small voice is heard. I blow the Shofar for our congregation, but I had not practiced as much as I usually would before today. And I had not stopped at all to listen for the still, small voice afterwards. I heard it a little today during the service, but I know I don’t hear it often enough.

So perhaps my resolution for this New Year’s should be to stop occasionally. Just to be still, to allow myself to hear the small voice and maybe feel a little of the greater awe. In our busy, daily lives, stillness is available. In the minute before dinner or as I close the bedtime story book. Even in the world of movement, of transport: in that moment on the train platform or at the bus stop; in that pause in my step or on my pedals before I turn onto a main road, even just as the car key comes out of the ignition. The moments, minutes, are there. If I can remember to stop for them.


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