Every day, I pull out my big three-ring notebook and help my children memorize poetry. Eli is memorizing a new translation of Psalm 50 and it is killing him. I don’t know this translation myself and I have to stare at the words otherwise they morph into one or another version or maybe just one that I am making up as I go. This is really hard. This translation is so similar but also so different and he keeps sliding into his old one, that one that he hears every day when his father reads the morning prayers which just happens to be the same as the one that lives in my head. So we work on it, just a few words at a time, every single day.
He really has to focus and so do I because I don’t know it and I just keep sliding into the one I actually can say. I kick everyone out of the room and I stare at these words as he sips his coffee and I can see the wheels turning in his head while the ones in my own head struggle to stay on track. He does not have to do this, he is not obligated, but he is doing it anyway. He whispers under his breath, “This is the hardest thing that I will ever do.” He is on to something here.
Just doing hard things is hard. This is something that is a such a mental workout that it feels like an exercise in futility, like watching Sysophis rolling his rock back up the hill every morning. Just like that but, only not, it is just a mental workout. It is not like Eli is climbing Mt Everest or anything, I am not his sherpa dragging myself up a mountain with him; it is just memory work. That is what makes it harder. We have a hard time doing the little hard things, the ones that are actually possible, the ones that show up in our daily lives, the ones that feel both so insurmountable that we cannot muster the strength to even consider doing it but also ones that feel so small that they aren’t worth doing. So, we don’t learn to do hard things. We learn to stop before we even start. I think that we should learn to the little hard things, and do lots of them, and to celebrate them. I am never going to climb Mt Everest but I just might memorize this prayer.
Why is he even doing this? Well, our religion has very scripted services and over thousands of years has developed a number of books that help us to say the right things and do the right things as we stand in the right places. Sometimes, it is easier to memorize pieces of these services to make it easier to do the other things, like hold lots of lit candles and gold plated pots of burning incense that we swing around. One of the publishers of these books is making some changes because of some weird modern day, first world problems, like copyright law. It’s easier for them to publish books if they own all the pieces inside so some of the translations are changing. My husband is adamantly opposed to this. He gets so upset and anxious and downright irritable at the thought of memorizing these little pieces over again using this new translation. He thinks it’s impossible. To him, he might as well be climbing Mt Everest and he is not alone. There is a large contingent of clergy like himself who also think they will never memorize these prayers. They don’t even try because it is just impossible.
Eli has his eyes on the future and he knows that if he does become clergy, like his father, then he will have a leg up if he already knows these translations. That is why, every day, he chips away at Mt Everest. He is starting with one prayer, just one, and only a few words at a time. One of these days, he will look down from the top with this prayer safely tucked into his pocket, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice, and then steel himself for the next mountain.
“This is the hardest thing I will ever do,” Eli tells me.
He might be right. I think the next one will be easier because he did this one first. That is why I sit at the table with him and sip my own coffee. Mt Everest, here we come.