Anyone who has come out of the last three weeks, taking the (Jewish) religious element to heart will know how I feel right now.
In the past, I haven't really treated the Three Week period of mourning for the destruction of the Temples that seriously. Yes, I did the basics, such as not cutting my hair or attending a wedding (not that there were any of those to go to), but I still went out to the cinema and even attended some concerts (I was not going to miss Simon and Garfunkel's unique concert in Hyde Park for anything!).
What makes this year different is that I made a conscious effort to get into the spirit of the thing. Admittedly, I didn't stop listening to music until Rosh Chodesh Av, but that's because to me, music is so much more than just simple entertainment - it is the oxygen for my soul. I did however make a point of not going out to the cinema or buying new clothes (not that I do this much anyway). Still, it was a question of internalising the period and trying to get into the spirit of the twenty one days in a meaningful way.
What make this year different though is how I approached the Nine Days, which ran from the start of the month of Av until Tisha B'av (the 9th of the month) which is the saddest and most poignant day in the Jewish calendar. For the first time in many a year, I didn't shave. I also didn't listen to music (which in a way was the hardest thing to do - although I do usually abscond), but most importantly, at least to me, is that I tried my best to do as much as I could to conform with the laws pertaining to the occasion.
That said, there are certain things I always refuse to do during the Nine Days. I will not stop taking hot showers, because for me, these are less in issue of comfort, than a bare necessity. I also refuse to avoid washing clothes because, in a family of our magnitude, I can't believe that the good Lord above would want me to spend the week after the fast catching up with an Everest-like load of stinking, mucky washing.
I did the fast as I do every year and even spent the last few hours watching an amazing live web cast from the Beth Jacob shul in West Hollywood, where the extraordinary Rabbi Steven Weil talked for about three hours, without notes, in a brilliant monologue that brimmed with anecdotes and insights into the Kinnot (poems pertaining to the fast), the like of which I have never hitherto experienced.
I did all of this because I felt that it was something that I needed to be a part of - and I'm glad I did because the feelings of relief and spiritual satisfaction that I am now encountering could never have been realised had I not gone through the whole caboodle.
A friend of mine made a telling remark. He says that going through the period slowly dehumanises us (you see, A, I really do listen to you!), from the start of the Three Weeks, through the prohibitions of the Nine Days and ultimately into Tisha B'av when we remove the very requirements we need to sustain us (food and liquid) and find ourselves sitting on the floor in the Synagogue, with not much more than a prayer book (and in my case a mobile phone - because mourning can only go so far).
A very insightful comment, A. and one that I am totally in agreement with.
Now, it is all over and for me, the Summer has finally begun. It's just a shame that the sun doesn't seem to concur, because it feels as though Autumn is already here, granted the preponderance of rain and lack of sunshine (albeit on hold today, because it is beautiful out there!).
Going through the process of re-humanisation is a truly uplifting experience. I don't look forward to repeating the experiment next year, but when the time comes around again, I think I'll be more than ready.