May 21, 1998
A Jewish Guy
By Adam Gilad
When I moved to Los Angeles and we tried to set upa play date for our son, we got this odd reply, "Can't this week; I'mcrazed!"
We called another mom and got, "I'm really crazeduntil May. Call me in two months!" Echoes upon echoes: "Oh, we'd loveto, but we're really crazed for the next few weeks." "Sorry! Thistime of year, we're crazed!" "We're crazed, we're crazed, you knowhow it is -- crazed!"
I swiftly began to feel that I was crazy for notbeing crazed.
I hear this expression "crazed" more thanbirdsong, so I've had a good opportunity to think about it. Beingcrazed, I realized, is a perverse status game. He who is most crazedat the end of the day, wins.
On the flip side of this strange power grab is theexpression's powerlessness, so clear in its flaunting of the passivevoice. Never have I heard someone blurt, "I'm making myself crazy bythe choices I'm making!" No, it's always, "I'm crazed," as if somepsychotic outside force is responsible, like fate, or a hit squad ofI.B. Singer's mischievous imps.
But I'm grateful for having all these "crazed"people in my life. They remind me not to get crazed myself. Andbelieve me, as the minutes of my days slip away, and weeks get gulpedby months and years, and my babies are suddenly asking me about"South Park," I can feel the temptation to join the crazecraze.
In my 20s, it felt like I had all the time in theworld. Then I hit my 30s, and time was being sucked out of my lifelike oxygen from a punctured space shuttle (yes, by dint of mychoices). Things were getting bad. My days settled into a routine ofnonstop movement: wake up, check the Net, get the kids to school,race to meet my writing partner, zip around town to meetings, racehome; then kids, dishes, homework, story time, turn to my wife, abrief smile, a wave and -- collapse!
I was ready to call Stephen Hawking to complain.Instead, I began fighting back.
Most of my best decisions come to me in a flash ofgenius after months of hectoring by my wife, Abby. This one involvedsomething as small as the telephone but has sent out ripples of peaceand power in my life.
Because I dwell on the mid-lower rungs of theHollywood ladder, studio folks put me at the bottom of their calllists, and my phone starts ringing in earnest right around dinnertime. And though nothing is more pleasurable than to hear, overpasta, tales of gender wars on the playground, I found myself jumpingup to answer the phone.
It was driving my wife crazy and tearing me inhalf -- and making me feel, well, crazed. So she suggested I not pickup the phone. Can you imagine? Then she insisted I not pick up thephone. Then she threatened me if I picked up the phone.
Suddenly, I had this great idea! I wouldn't pickup the phone!
Being a married guy, I couldn't attribute thisdecision to my wife. I had to find an outside authority. And being aJewish married guy, I had the option of going to a Source! In thiscase, I found one in no less than HaRav Abraham JoshuaHeschel.
In his meditative book, "The Sabbath," Heschelwrites lyrically about Shabbat being a "cathedral" in time. I'vespent time with this inspiring image before, felt the peace and aweit brings, and when I left an outgoing message on my machine that Iwould not be answering the phone between 6 and 8:30 p.m., I felt Iwas creating, if not a grand cathedral in time, then at least alittle shtiebl. Two and a half hours -- a mini-Shabbat for sacredthings. Just me and the boys and the bathtub and some books andenough plastic toys to fill a preschool. No phones. No computer. Nothreshing or plowing. No winnowing.
And I had Rav Heschel to thank for it.
That first night, I found myself amazingly relaxedwhen I came home. Abby, remarkably, seemed equally relaxed. And thenthe phone rang. Her eyes shot at me across the table. I froze. Partof my body strained. Part was already at my desk, delineatingcharacter arcs. Part was at my attorney's office, signing studiocontracts in triplicate. But I didn't leave my seat.
It was hard. By the second night, not answeringthe phone felt easy and powerful.
A simple gesture, but it helped me take backcontrol of my time. And I am showing my kids what I've been wanting,but failing to show them all the time -- that they take precedenceover work and over everything.
There was an unexpected bonus: Even thehardest-nosed and most crazed Hollywood types felt moved to commenton what a great idea it was, putting that message up. They respectedthe commitment. They respected my family time, my shtiebl intime.
OK, so now I'll thank Abby. And I didn't even needRabbi Heschel to tell me to do so.
Adam Gilad writes a monthly column, but missedlast month because he was crazed.