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My Summer Monologue: A Thought on Prayer

My Summer Monologue: A Thought on Prayer

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As a mother of young children, I spend many summer afternoons sitting by the pool at the Jewish Community Center with my kids. Last Tuesday, I ran into an old friend and her 7-year-old there. She asked about my oldest, my 9-year-old son. With mixed emotions, I told her that he just went off to sleepaway camp the week beforehand. Yes, for the first time, at just 9 years old, for four entire weeks, miles and miles away!

After she got past the initial shock and we started to discuss it further, I told her how the camp manages parental communication with campers. My son gets to call home twice during those four weeks, though we don’t know exactly when he’ll call. He writes and mails a letter every Friday before Shabbat. In addition, I can email him as much as I want.

“So, did he email you back? What does he have to say?” my friend asked.

“No, he doesn’t email back. The camp staff prints out the emails and gives them to him, but he doesn’t get to email us back,” I responded.

Suddenly, her 7-year-old son, who had been sitting there with us throughout the conversation, turned to me and said, “Why do you email him, if he can’t email you back?”

In other words, “Lady, I hate to break it to you, but it sounds like you’re having a conversation with yourself. Why bother?!”

Leave it to kids to stun you with their questions. They must be acting as G‑d’s messengers sometimes, to try to teach us a thing or two. At the moment, I had no real answer to this simple question, but it definitely got me thinking, and not just about my communication with my son: Why do we email him?

Starting from the first Friday that my son was away (he left on a Wednesday), I have taken a few minutes daily to send him a short email. I tell him that I hope he’s having a nice time, and what’s going on with our family back here in Houston. His younger sisters also send him short emails, in which they tell him about their day-camp experiences and what they’re up to at home.

But again, Why do we email him?

I email my child, knowing that I’m not going to get his immediate response. Yet it doesn’t bother me or preclude me from doing it. Even though he’s miles away, as I sit to write those short emails, I feel connected to him. I know that when my son reads my emails, he will also feel connected to me. I know that he will read each and every one of them, and cherish them as much as I cherish writing them. Furthermore, despite the limited, seemingly one-way means of communication, I know that he will somehow, someday respond to my emails.

Answers may come in different bits and pieces, across different media—some in the form of a letter; some via the short phone calls; some during a drive or a late-night chat once he returns; or even quite a few days after he’s settled back at home. No immediate answers via email, but answers nonetheless.

In fact, that same Tuesday, right before leaving to the pool and meeting my friend and her child, I received, and excitedly read, a handwritten letter from my son. (It was the first time I had heard from him since I dropped him off at the airport, a week earlier.) It was a short letter, which he had written prior to receiving most of my emails to date. Upon reading it, I felt like he addressed most everything I had said to him via email.


So what I would say to my friend’s cute 7-year-old (and myself) is: “This is not a monologue! And it’s certainly not inconsequential.”

In a way, it is like our communication with G‑d, otherwise known as prayer. And I’m not referring here just to the act of saying the words from a prayerbook, although I mean that, too. I’m referring to the whole gamut of what prayer really is—avodah she’b’lev, “the service of the heart.” I say that because most women, particularly those who are mothers of young children, are hardly found with an open prayerbook, meticulously pronouncing the pre-scripted text. However, I think we have cornered the prayer market. That talking-to-G‑d thing, we just somehow know how to do it, intuitively. We do it quite often, and almost as naturally as sending emails to our beloved child in camp.

Most of us are not privy to hear the voice of G‑d; however, we still talk to Him. We pray. We do it because we feel connected to Him when we do. We do it knowing that He treasures our attempts at connecting with Him. And even though we know that He may not answer in the same exact way that we addressed Him, He will answer us.

But there’s something else about this “monologue”—be it the one with G‑d or the one with my son. When I sit down to email my son, I am forced to first think about what and how I’m going to write. Instead of writing, “Are you having a great time?” I’ll say, “I hope you’re having a great time.” Or instead of writing, “Do you like the food?” I’ll word it something like, “I noticed hot dogs, fries and pickles in the pictures the counselors put up on the website. I bet you were so happy with that food.”

I also watch how I express myself. Even if I miss my son dearly, I will not write anything that could make him feel like his family can’t manage without him. Yes, he is missed. But what he should know and feel is that although we miss him, we believe that he should be there, and that we trust he’s gaining a tremendous amount from this experience. He should know that we are excited and happy for him.

Similarly, the Hebrew word for “prayer” (tefilah)shares the same root as the word “to judge.” Therefore, our sages tell us that l’hitpalel (“to pray”), a reflexive form of the verb, could also be translated as “to judge oneself.” Not only is the objective of prayer to reinforce our connection with G‑d, but ideally, when we pray, we make a self-judgment. We try to become cognizant of what we’re saying and how we’re saying it.

For example, “Is what I’m requesting from G‑d the right thing to ask?” “Am I truly asking for the right reasons?” “What am I doing, or what could I be doing, to merit my request?” This is how the act of prayer ultimately refines us as human beings—through the intentional self-judgment and self-reflection that occur during the “monologue” with G‑d.

I doubt the camp developed their communications policy based on the concept of prayer. But I’ve learned that, like prayer, these seemingly inconsequential emails strengthen my relationship with my child and help me become a better parent. So, as I sit by the pool all summer long, I’ll most certainly carry on with my share of “summer monologues.”

Yael Trusch is a mother, and author of the lifestyle blog, Jewish Latin Princess, where Jewish femininity takes a Latin twist. On her bi-lingual blog, Yael creatively inspires women to combine the physical and spiritual in everything they do. She holds women’s classes in Spanish and teaches brides and bat mitzvah girls.
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