So, you remember my daughter’s friend who nearly died as a result of an allergic reaction to medication she was given, three weeks’ ago? (Baruch Hashem, she came out of hospital this week, thanks to everyone who prayed for her.)
Well, on the back of that, and my daughter’s reaction to what had happened, I decided we had to go to Uman ASAP.
Usually I try to go with a tour group where everything is taken care of and arranged for you, but this time round, I told my husband to book whatever flight he could find and arrange whatever lodging was available, to get us to Uman before school started.
We went for a 36 hour round-trip, and as with all trips to Uman, it was eventful.
Usually when I go by myself, I just in the Kever and do some longggg praying sessions. But this time, I had a couple of kids to think about, and when one of them showed up right at the beginning of my planned 6 hour prayer-a-thon, I realised God was giving me a steer to re-prioritise.
Getting my priorities right, and achieving balance between ‘me’ and ‘family’ has been an ongoing struggle for me, for years already. So when I got the nudge to stop praying, and to actually spend some time with my kids in Uman, I took it as a sign.
Rebbe Uman wrote something like:
‘It’s a shame to be in Uman, and not visit the Sofia Park.’
On most of my trips, I’ve shunned the outing to the Sofia Park to spend more time praying at the Kever, but this time round, we ordered the taxi, and went.
The Park is beautiful – full of the sorts of mature trees that I used to see in abundance in the UK (which is pretty much the only thing I actually still miss.) We spent a very calm, tranquil couple of hours walking around, and having the first ‘lazy Sunday’ type outing we’d had in a decade.
It was so nice.
But then I pondered, is this really what God wants me to be doing?
To put all this time, money and effort into coming to Uman just to spend time wondering round a landscaped park?
The answer, perhaps surprisingly, was ‘yes’.
Because even though we’re souls clothed in bodies, the body still needs some time and attention, and giving it what it needs is actually an enormous mitzvah. I’m learning this lesson very slowly still, but I felt this trip to Uman underlined it for me.
Usually, I dump my bags in my room, and rush straight off to the Kever. This trip, we wandered around the pizza place and makolet buying food before we even got to the apartment. Then, my kids started browsing in one of the local 24/7 trinket shops (that doubles-up as the French Crepe Café) before any of us had even got anywhere close to visiting the kever.
It was the opposite of how it usually is for me: materialism in place of spirituality; spending money on ‘stuff’ instead of giving it away to charity; doing the tourist thing around Gan Sofia instead of doing six hours by Rebbe Nachman’s grave.
But strangely, this trip to Uman started to teach me some very profound lessons about achieving balance, and noticing my family, and the importance of just being. I sat in the park, and just sat. I sat on the bench waiting for a kid to pick out a cheap ‘Uman’ souvenir, and I just waited. I sat by the side of the road for an hour waiting for the taxi to show up that was going to take us back to the airport, and I just looked at the sky and breathed.
I realised, I do this so little.
I’m so busy in my head, in my writing, in my ‘doing’, that even when I’m praying, I’m still ‘doing’ instead of ‘being’.
In Uman, you get that flash of clarity, that lightning bolt, that lights up the whole path for a moment, an hour, a day, and shows you where you could actually get to in your life. Then you get back on the plane, and it all goes dark again.
The challenge is to recreate that clarity, and to integrate it into your own, real life. That’s what I’m trying to do now, but I already know I have an uphill struggle to stop doing so much, and to start being more.
But now Rabbenu’s shown me the way, at least now I know it’s possible.