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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Last weekend, I decided to make the trek out to my parents in West Hempstead for Shabbat because my husband was away in Chicago. Since I am a baby who doesn’t like staying alone on Friday night without having another adult around for moral support, I always invite myself and the kids out to various relatives. This time, it was to my childhood home.

At worst, the trip out to Long Island could take an hour and a half. At best, with my speedster husband at the wheel during a late Saturday night, or say, during a blizzard or the early hours of a hurricane when nobody else is on the road, it can be an easy 25-minute commute. Average those out, and I gave myself a good hour estimate for how much time I’d need to travel, with an added 30-minute cushion for us to settle down once arriving, prior to lighting candles. We would need to leave by 3:30 in order to start Shabbat at five.

I informed the cleaning lady in my broken Spanish that she’d need to leave ASAP so that I could lock up. But at 3:30, she was still putting away laundry, one of my children had just jumped into the shower and the car wasn’t packed, so I sat down to blow-dry my hair. With my husband away, there was nobody to rush us along, and although I knew we needed to be leaving, I also knew that I needed straight, dry hair, and that I still had that half-hour grace period I’d factored in. With one hand, I blew hot air onto my wet scalp, and with the other, I decided to check Waze to see how much time it would take to get there, so that I wouldn’t be stressed about how last-minute we were. And also, so that I’d know if I should do a really good job on my hair, or a poufy, haphazard frizz that I usually do when I lack time or patience beyond one stroke of the brush.

Most stress comes from imagining a bad outcome ahead, and so checking Waze is like glancing ahead into the future; instead of sitting and driving with sweat dripping down, wondering when you’re going to get to an appointment, or how late you’ll be for carpool pickup, you can totally eliminate that stress and just know, “Yes, I’ll be late,” or “I’ll make it with one minute to spare.” (There are usually no other outcomes for me.) And then the ride is stress-free, because you’ve already accepted your fate, and there is no reason to be anxious about the unknown. I typed in the destination address.

Arrival time: 5:12.

I blinked. But what I saw was correct, even though it felt like a mistake, and I wanted the numbers to adjust, for the impediment on the highway that was clearly holding up traffic to suddenly lift and free us to finish up at home and still arrive before candle lighting. I refreshed the page, and it didn’t. I tossed the blowdryer into the bin, and went banging on the bathroom door so that my daughter could come into the car. Then I ran ablaze through the house and corralled the kids to get their bags down the steps and into the car, piled the food in my arms, threw money at the cleaning lady, and announced that nobody was allowed to talk. I needed to focus all of my energy on getting us there on time.

After an initial error of pulling onto Route 4 West (out of habit because I do that several times a day), I made a race car-like 180 degree turn to get back out to where I’d started. From the backseat, I heard a few whispered voices, “Is that allowed?”

“Yes,” I said, glancing over my shoulder at the pale faces of my children. “Very allowed. See? No policemen chasing me…”

Arrival time 5:15.

I had done my best. I got everyone in the car, packed the things in record time, and even threw a bag of snacks on the floor in case we had to make Shabbat on the Cross Bronx. Now, all I had to do was follow Waze very carefully to ensure no more driving errors, weave between some lanes to shave off minutes, and make sure not to get caught by any police, which would pretty much guarantee a Shabbat dinner of Veggie Straws and the zucchini I had made, which my kids hate anyway. So just Veggie Straws.

When I was finally calm enough to let the kids talk, shortly before entering the standstill traffic heading onto the George Washington Bridge, I told the kids that I had complete faith that we would make it in time for Shabbat. That Hashem would help us get there safely and not too late, and they could watch Waze with me, to see how every few miles, the arrival time would likely decrease. A minute had already been shaved off, and I loudly celebrated. 5:14.

“Repeat after me,” I instructed them. And I started saying a Perek of Tehillim, word for word, so that they could easily recite the refrains. I took the opportunity to teach them the power of prayer, and knew that even if for some reason we were further delayed, they should understand that during times of trouble, we can always turn to God, even if things don’t work out the way we’d want them too. “Now watch my phone,” I said, and every few miles, another minute from our final arrival time was whittled down.

I mentally established 5:05 to be a safe zone, just five short minutes after candle lighting, giving me 13 minutes to get stuck at a red light or miss an exit, before the 18-extra-minute grace period would expire. Our pace remained steady for most of the way, and I was able to drive calmly and carefully because I firmly believed we would make it, and there would be no dramatic accidents in front of us that would suddenly slow us down. My faith enabled me to think clearly and maneuver the car with precision. As we pulled off of the Southern State Highway into West Hempstead, and I ducked in my seat as I drove past the plethora of suit-clad men walking to shul, I was elated to see that the clock read 5:04. We made it.

“Our tehillim worked!” I cheered with the kids, as we yanked our bags from the car and ran in to say the bracha on the candles. Once the light of shabbat filled the room, I breathed deeply and inhaled the scent of the delicious food that did not include my Veggie Straws, and I was happy with the outcome of the faith-filled ways I had chosen.

By Sarah Abenaim

 Sarah Abenaim is a writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected]