About that PBS Story: On White Couches and Missing Lampshades

So this happened:

Watch Keeping the Sabbath on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

 And also this:

Watch MaryAnn McKibben Dana Extended Interview on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

The whole thing has been surreal and fun and wonderful. (Read more here.) I'm humbled by everyone who's shared the links with friends on Facebook and elsewhere. And I'm grateful for emails and messages from people I don't even know---including a rabbi who shared some of his own Shabbat resources. Lovely.

I've watched the segment once. If I could watch just the parts with my kids, I'd watch it again. It's fine, don't get me wrong. The PBS folks did an excellent job. I just can't bear watching myself on video. (Me and Daniel Radcliffe.)

But even with a single viewing, one moment from the segment stuck out. Robert and Iaughed and exchanged a knowing look when we saw it:

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 10.22.24 PM

Do you see what caught our eye?

It's the lamp. It's missing a lampshade. You may not have noticed, but for us, it is The Iconic Image of the whole piece. That lamp tells you everything you need to know about Sabbath.

I broke the lampshade in a fit of cleaning. I was sweeping and the whole thing fell over and shattered... requiring me to sweep a second time, by the way, because it's a cruel cruel world!

The thing is---and here's the vital piece; here's what I need to explain about Sabbath---I broke it a good four, five months ago. Seriously, that lamp's been a bare bulb since... well, since 2012.  Turns out it's stupidly complicated to replace. IKEA doesn't stock the shade separately. So we're stuck either replacing the entire lamp (which is wasteful) or hunting around for a lampshade that's the right size, attaches in the same way as the old one, etc. Which involves time we don't have. OK, I'll be precise: we do have time to do that, we've just done other things instead.

And I can be all philosophical about that. We choose to carve out some time each weekend to rest and play, which means we are not on top of the home projects. But I'll be honest. I don't like that bare bulb. Its glaring light reveals everything that's unfinished and chaotic about this period of our lives. Life with kids is one long bare-bulbed existence. The stain in the carpet that won't come out. The perennial jumble of stuff on top of the dresser. The wet beach towels slung over the doorway that don't ever get put away because after all, swim practice is gonna come around again. And that's the way life is.

The problem is, we don't show the bare bulb to each other. We're embarrassed by the bare bulb. I am. But the bare bulb is real. Maybe the bare bulb is the truest thing about ourselves.

I recently watched a promotional video for a book that's coming out, written by a wildly popular mommy blogger. Let me say that I will probably buy this book. I like her stuff. The author is wise. And her message is: Let's get real with each other. And she delivers this message while sitting on an impeccable white couch.

A white couch.

What lunacy is this! I can't even wear a white shirt without inviting pen marks, chocolate milk and blueberry smears. But white furniture? That is varsity, baby. That is ninja motherhood.

As she talks about how hard parenting is---and it is, and I have no reason to doubt it's hard for her too---we see some B-roll of her stocking a dresser drawer with a stack of diapers. And I think about the seven years we had kids in diapers and how the diapers never, ever made it into a dresser drawer. They went straight from bag to butt.

I wish her all the best. This isn't a me v. her thing. This is about packaging. This is about getting caught in that thing we all get caught in sooner or later, between what we allow other people to see and what is authentically us.

So let my bare-bulbed lamp be my truth in advertising, my Good Housekeeping seal. If I ever give the appearance of having it all together, just remember the light bulb. And if I ever resort to superficial half-truths about this wildly complicated world we live in, remind me of the light bulb.

Because yes, Sabbath is a practice that can save our lives. It can help us savor time, to see it as a gift, and not as a thing to be julienned into manageable pieces.

But Sabbath will also wreck your life, because Sabbath is an act of love, and love wrecks your life. Things will go undone---things you care about. Stuff might even break, and be hard or impossible to replace. If you're lucky, it won't happen on national television. But if it does, maybe Sabbath will give you the space to laugh and exchange a knowing look with someone who gets it.

That's the best thing I can say about it.