This week’s parsha has the dramatic story of Noah and the Flood. It’s fitting that today is one of those days where it seems like the rain will never end. In the story, though, Noah toiled for a long time building the arc with no sign of the flood to come.
Having done a little bit of woodworking and such, I can only imagine what an undertaking something like that might have been, given the tools available at the time. Noah wasn’t a young man, either, when he began building. I can imagine how the impact of the hammer must have traveled up his arm to his elbow and shoulder, how his back ached from lifting heavy beams into place, his knees protesting. It’s likely that each night he fell into bed, sore and exhausted, only to get up the next morning, still aching, and do it all again. Everyone outside his family thought he was crazy and foolish for doing all this. They could see no reason for his hard work.
Life is often like that. Often I have to work hard without being able to immediately see the purpose behind my hard work, much less any reward.
In my work life, I work in IT and my work comes to me through tickets. These tickets each represent some request or problem to be solved and most take me about a week with all the paperwork, approvals, and testing. I get a brief feeling of accomplishment when my ticket queue empties, but it immediately refills. I rarely interact with the people who benefit from my work or see any tangible progress and I often feel like just one cog in a big machine. I’m not present at a party to celebrate a project launch or a meeting to kick off a major project…I only see tickets flow in and then tickets disappear as they are closed.
In my private life, I do laundry, fold laundry, and then do the same laundry again. I work out and sometimes, like this past month, I am in a plateau and I don’t see the scale budge. I do that work of raising kids where day by day I may not see much change until I look at pictures and realize they really are growing up on me. With one teen having special needs, even the usual milestones I would use to measure our progress have to be let go of. I wash dishes, we eat, and I wash those same dishes again.
In my workouts, I sometimes feel like a fool, but I keep trying anyway. I keep lifting a little more, running just a little further, and stretching just a little bit more. As I pursue my first certification, I sometimes feel my confidence waver, wondering who am I to do this? Who would ever hire me to do this for them? Am I too old to do this now?
A lot of people think I’m crazy for being an Orthodox Jew, following all kinds of laws that seem too restrictive or too arbitrary. It will definitely be a very long time before I know for sure if G-d cares if I eat cheeseburgers or not, but I keep on following those laws because they bring some sense of order and meaning to my life, just like emptying my ticket queue or getting those dishes washed, or adding on 2lbs to my chest press.
I go to sleep and sometimes I’m so weary and then I wake up, sore, turn off my alarm…and do it all again.
And I think of Noah, toiling away with just faith that what he is doing is meaningful.
I’m not being asked to build an ark, but I am being asked to keep on working even if I can’t yet see the benefit of my work. Anything worth working for involves that icky in between period, where I’m working hard, but I don’t yet see the results of that hard work. It’s easy for me to feel discouraged and to lose motivation in that in between time, but that’s where it becomes even more important to dig deeper and find something within myself to just keep going, concentrating just on what’s in front of me so that I don’t get overwhelmed by what’s ahead or discouraged by how much is behind me.
Climbing a mountain, it’s useless to keep looking at the summit or back down to the trailhead. Focusing on each step and just taking it one step at a time gets you where you’re going. The same is true of a running race, a big project, or a mountain of housework or helping a kid with their algebra. One problem, one ticket, one rep at a time, finding meaning in making each one the best I can.
Noah kept on working on his ark, following the directions he’d been given, even when there were no clouds in the sky to justify his labor. He kept working even as everyone around him disbelieved him. Eventually his efforts made a big enough difference that they’ve been remembered for long after his death.
When I am gone, it’s unlikely anyone will remember the dishes I washed or the laundry I folded. It’s also not likely that anyone at work will remember me long after I’m gone or remember how quickly I got a ticket done. I don’t think my 5k best time or my heaviest weight lifted will be on my gravestone. Still, the person that doing these things makes me and the life I created for myself and my family will be remembered for at least a generation or two. What I do influences my children, who in turn may pass on some of that to their own children, and so on. In this way, these small acts do add up to a life of influence to those who are most important to me.
What are you building today, bit by bit, whether it seems crazy or foolish or not?