The Lonely House of Truth: Part III—Truth in the Woods
Shalva’s phone buzzed, and she briefly debated if she should take the time to look at the new message. Trying to herd the kids out the door to school so she could arrive at work on time was challenging enough without distractions. Deciding to ignore the buzz, Shalva bent down to tie Tani’s shoe. While listening to Tani talk excitedly about the game he was going to play with his friend, she heard her phone once, and then again, and then a third time. After kissing Tani’s soft cheek, Shalva stood up, and feeling compelled to check her phone, she reached into her coat pocket.
“Backpacks everyone,” she called to the kids, “and then let’s head out.”
She glanced down at the screen and was happily surprised to see that work was cancelled for the morning since a transformer had blown on the block on which her office was located. The thought of a partial day off—an adult snow day—transformed the morning rush from an exhausting grind to a liberating finish line. What would she do with the few hours to herself?
Music filled the minivan as she drove to the two schools. Her calmness seemed to impact the children, and they chatted amicably until each one departed on their own adventures.
Alone in the car, Shalva’s mind spun happily with potential plans. Her phone rang, interrupting her reverie. From the caller I.D., she knew it was a colleague from work.
“Hi, Stephanie! I am so happy. I know the afternoon of catch-up will be hectic, but it’s worth it.”
“Did you already plan your morning, or do you want to go hiking? I feel so stir-crazy with spring fever, and this is a great time to hit the woods.”
“Sure. Great idea. Where do you want to go?” Shalva asked.
“Let’s head to Hopping Tree Park. Do you want to drive together? We can meet at work and leave one car there,” suggested Stephanie.
“Ok. Does twenty minutes work?”
“Sure. See you there.”
Shalva ran home to stick a load of laundry in the washing machine and grab a water bottle and her sneakers, and then she headed out again. She pulled into the parking lot just ahead of Stephanie. She and Steph had a great working relationship and laughed together often. Shalva hoped this hike would help to deepen their friendship.
“I can drive,” Stephanie called out from her open window as Shalva stepped out of her car.
Shalva settled into Steph’s car, and they kept up a running dialogue on their way to the forest.
When they arrived some ten minutes later, Shalva looked up at the clear blue sky and breathed deeply as she took in the view. The springtime trees were just beginning to fill out, reaching upward with hope for a new season of growth. As Shalva turned toward Stephanie, she noticed her long shadow reaching in Steph’s direction from the sunlight of the still-early morning.
The women continued to converse as they walked toward the trees. “Oh look,” Shalva whispered, “Look at those deer!”
“Where?” Stephanie responded, her volume matching Shalva's.
“Over to the right. They are camouflaged, so it’s hard to see them. Count five trees to the right, and then look straight back.”
“I see them,” Steph exhaled the words, as if she had been holding her breath. “There is a whole group of them.”
“I can't believe we are so close to them.”
Suddenly, one of the deer realized that they had been spotted and stood up and began to run away. The others—were there actually fourteen?—quickly followed, and in a moment, they had dashed off into the safety of the woods and out of sight.
The friends stood in silence. Shalva felt grateful for this brief time spent so close to the graceful animals. Steph broke the silence, “It's not so often that you rendezvous with G-d's creatures. I guess we can continue on, but I doubt we will see them again today.”
Shalva nodded in agreement. The two walked together, each absorbed in their own thoughts for a few minutes.
Slowly, their conversation picked up again, and soon they were laughing at some silly anecdote. They hiked on for more than an hour.
Somehow, and reflecting upon it later Shalva could not remember how, they landed on the topic of the overuse of smart phones. They were sitting on some huge boulders, overlooking a view of the city far below. In the calmness of a gentle breeze, Shalva breathed deeply. She remembered her promise to herself to tell her truth and confide in someone who would hear her and accept her. This was it. “My husband is addicted to his phone,” the words tumbled out before she could snatch them back. Ever talkative, Stephanie didn't respond. “He struggles with, um, things, and it's an escape for him, I guess.”
“You know that's ridiculous, right?” accused Stephanie, the words cutting through the tranquility.
“What do you mean?” Shalva responded, barely managing to get the words out.
“Phones aren't addicting. I'm sure you are exaggerating.”
“Why would I do that?” Shalva asked, shocked, but also really curious about why someone would make something like this up.
“You overachiever-types invent problems,” Steph answered dismissively.
“What does that mean?” Shalva was incredulous.
“There you are, with a perfect little family of adorable kids and a handsome husband, and you look for problems to invent.”
Shalva instinctively looked around, feeling like she must be on some hidden reality show. But how could that be, since no one knew this conversation would be taking place?
Just then, both their phones buzzed, cutting the conversation off. They each looked down to see the new message from work.
“Oh man,” Stephanie moaned. “The office is opening at noon. We better start heading back—it's a long hike to the car.” She summarily closed her water bottle and began walking without hesitation, leaving Shalva scurrying to catch up. Not that she wanted the ride any longer, but she had no other way to work. They walked in silence, except for the occasional branches snapping under their feet.
Shalva tried to focus on the clean air and spring freshness. She wanted to feel light and happy, but somehow the conversation had sapped her enthusiasm for the hike. She found herself having to hustle to keep up with Steph—although maybe Steph was trying to ditch her. She wasn't sure. After 45 minutes of replaying the conversation in her head, they were back in the parking lot. Shalva stood there next to the car, hesitating, not wanting to enter Stephanie's domain. “You coming?” Steph called from inside her car.
As Shalva looked up, she noticed that her shadow had disappeared in the midday sun. Without responding, she opened the car door, sat down and buckled up. The instant the seatbelt clicked, Stephanie accelerated and they headed to work. Now there was nothing to say. Stephanie turned on the news. Was she purposely silencing Shalva? Shalva wondered why Steph had shut her down. And why she had trusted Steph to share her truth.
Shalva would find a place for her voice. Steph just wasn't the right person. Clearly. Ezri me-im HaShem. She was not alone on this journey. Hashem was with her, and she would find the right support outside the Heavenly sphere as well.