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Sitting in a Café

Sitting in a Café

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A strange thing has happened since my diagnosis several months ago. It seems that G‑d's voice has grown louder. Too loud, sometimes. Always unexpected. At times, even intrusive.

I sit having a cup of coffee. I've treated myself to a few minutes alone in a café to read and enjoy my anonymity. Suddenly, from nowhere, a feeling arises, causing me to look around — both inside and out — to discover the cause.

Nothing.

I lower my eyes to read again, as the feeling appears to wane.

Then, a second time it rises — this time stronger — causing my eyes to sting.

What's going on?

Once more I scan my environment, my thoughts, a sentence in the book that has, perhaps, spurred some memory or association.

I look around, afraid that someone notices the pool of tears forming in my eyes, worried that the waitress will approach, discover my condition, and question my sanity or equilibrium.

Once more I struggle for normalcy, grasping at the words in my book, wiping, nearly violently, the tears from my eyes, angry with myself, confused, fearful.

Tensing against the inappropriateness of these causeless emotions does nothing to alleviate them. They carry an insistence against which I am powerless. In submission, I cover my face with my hands, and allow my heart to swell, hiding the tears that drop one by one on my cheeks, grateful that I am not weeping, but only spilling over with feelings more expansive than I can contain, than my heart can contain.

I find comfort and focus in the black fog behind my eyes. Though unable to inhibit the experience, I no longer fear that it will render me helpless and out of control. I breathe deeply, as my consciousness enters my heart, the source of these sensations and the tears they cause.

As I do so, sensations begin to flood throughout my body, enlivening, strengthening the pathways they travel. Without thinking, I take my hands from my eyes and gaze outward upon the café, the street, the people, all the while feeling the moisture in my eyes, the swell in my heart, the sensations pulsing through my body.

I am astounded at the beauty and the simplicity, not of any one thing, but of the everything that seems to blend in an abstract mosaic.

Again I raise my hands to my eyes, this time not to hide, but to retreat from the stimulation to a place of quiet and privacy where I can nurture these feelings, absorb and delight in them.

And then the words arise in my thoughts: In illness the voice of G‑d grows louder.

Not just loud, but intrusive, I respond. And with a shudder, I snap back to a state of being more appropriate to my surroundings, yet still too fragile to rise and walk.

Since becoming ill, I've had many such unusual experiences. At times I've felt an extraordinary closeness to G‑d; at times a frightening distance. Little I do seems to affect the relationship. As always, G‑d is pulling the strings. Full of surprises, He seems to delight in catching me off guard. Sometimes I think He takes advantage of my condition, that He is opportunistic and seeks those moments when I would least expect Him to visit. Is that Him I hear laughing?

But could it be any other way? If not for His chicanery, would I (or any of us) stop to listen? Would the logic and self-assurance of my workaday mind crack long enough to pay attention to the world as it is, regardless of how I pretend or remember it to be? Can the astounding beauty contained in the ordinary be perceived with eyes that mechanically reconfigure the pieces in a commonly agreed upon repetitive pattern learned since childhood? Had this flood of emotion come as I put my young son to sleep at night, it would have been appropriate. But such experience, such love sitting in a café, with no rhyme nor reason to cause it, allows me to touch, if only briefly, the senseless, baseless love with which the Almighty, it seems, fills and surrounds the universe at all times, in all places, totally capriciously, certainly with a smile, and maybe even a giggle... a giggle, that when experienced by man, is enough to make one cry.

For me, this giggle is the voice of G‑d that grows louder in my illness. It is that which occurs in the cracks my illness has caused in the surety of my life. It is the surprise that emerges, as the pieces that were once mechanistic, now regroup in unexpected, refreshing ways.

The voice is not a voice, or at least not only a voice, but sensations and emotions, visions and dreams, an ever changing cascade of one of a kind, fleeting perspectives and comprehensions, and, yes, the simple beauty of a café filled with people, located on a busy, noisy, dusty street. A beauty that, when looked at through the cracks, accompanied by a bit of holy chicanery and a mischievous giggle, simply knocks your socks off.

The voice of G‑d speaks more loudly during illness, because this is, perhaps, precisely why such illness exists in my life, why it exists at all, why all events exist that seem to shock us, awaken us from the arrogance and self importance with which we create the world according to our comfort.

Do I hear the voice of G‑d in these sensations and emotions that pounce upon the few moments of relaxation I seek in a café? Or is this only the exaggeration and dramatization of a person whose illness has knocked his equilibrium off kilter enough to cause fits of emotional outbursts in the most unexpected of times?

Does it really matter? Are we not all constantly interpreting our existence and experience and providing it meaning as best we can? Would you deprive a sick man the opportunity to pretend he is encountering G‑d? Is it really so wrong to attribute the throbbing in my heart to the love with which G‑d fills the world?

I only have one complaint, really.

Gee, I wish the Guy would at least let me have a cup of coffee in peace. It's embarrassing sitting there, loving the universe, eyes filled with tears, pretending to be a regular person having a cup of coffee.

See these two related articles by Jay: Bitachon and From Under the Covers

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
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Ina Reznicek New York City, NY USA May 3, 2012

sitting in a cafe Courageous, conflicted, and descriptive.
Printing his Bio allowed me to see more about the him, and how much goodness he accomplished to bring to others while lived. Reply

Anonymous royal palm beach, Fl.33411 via chabadtodayflorida.com December 30, 2010

restaurant experience I too put my hands to my face, and to my surprise I picture some of the inhumane
suffering placed upon innocent folks, ostensibly "in the site of God"
Is God holding back his power to "smite" the
ones responsible for unspeakable acts of
inhumane torture, or IS there a GOD?
GIve me encouragement! Reply

Anonymous toronto, ont canada July 16, 2010

in a cafe well expressed and comforting, this sounds like home to me, very relevant to my own experiences. Reply

David Yacolt, WA via chabadclarkcounty.com April 23, 2010

H-s growing voice... I too have experienced this counter intuitive experience - Ironically, when it occurs, this broken, but healing experience, it so utterly transcends this most predictable worldly existence that only the those nearing the next-world or wittingly transformed by Torah can know it's joy. Reply

Anonymous mtl, Canada via chabadqueenmary.com March 20, 2007

I too am moved to think about G_d and life as I sit in a restaurant.any times I look down the restaurant and thank G_d for all the good he has brought into my life. At other times I pray he help me and those I care about. Reply

Anonymous Texas March 17, 2007

coffee I believe G-d has allowed me to understand and cope with my own illness through the writing of Jay Litvan. My problem is learning to shut long enough to hearwhat G-d is trying to tell me but it is getting eaiser. Reply

Ronda Robinson March 16, 2007

Jay Litvin was an incredible writer. I only just discovered him, and feel moved every time I read him. Reply

Mark Wagner Dallas, TX April 23, 2005

Sitting in a Cafe Two words-Divine inspiration, best describe this man's writing. Reply

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