“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”
Between my first and second years of college, I had a job at a country club in Marietta, Ga. I was the beer cart driver, selling sandwiches and soda, crackers and candy…and probably most important to the high rolling golfers….beer.
It was one of the best jobs I’ll ever have.
I went to school with most of the kids who lived in the development…so the country club wasn’t too exotic to me…but my family wasn’t a part of the “horsey set”. I had friends who lived in big houses…I had friends who lived in little houses…all I knew about any of it was that it was nice to have friends.
That summer I got used to the phrase “keep the change”. I liked that phrase. Every work day, I’d go home with the pockets of my blue corduroys bulging with quarters. The job was something I could get used to.
One week, we had a horrible heat wave. I think it was about 110 degrees for the whole week.
Atlanta can be beastly hot in the summer…but this was beyond beastly.
I’d go out for my “beer circuit” in the cool beginnings of morning…and by just a little later in the day, it would already be unbearable. I think that in my 8 or 9 hour shift, I’d typically see two or three golfers out on the course. It was too hot for even the dogs to be out.
But I’d be there…under a shade tree by the thirteenth hole…too hot to even enjoy sweating…reading “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck.
I went through a big Steinbeck phase that summer…read “Grapes of Wrath” sitting on the golf course, too.
I think I read East of Eden in three really hot workdays. It wasn’t hard to get some reading done on the surface of the moon. I felt like Charlton Heston in that Omega Man movie….wondering where everybody was.
East of Eden is a great story. I love that book. When you are working your way out of adolescence, books with a well-defined moral core are pretty appealing. It is part of being young to need to be outraged…to be challenged by the “hypocritical world”…to be moved by grand moral dilemmas.
One of the central themes in the book is the idea of timshel…the thought that we have the privilege of being able to choose. If the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi Shamalamadingdong had dropped some truth hard on my head it wouldn’t have been an idea that made more of an impact on me.
Timshel. “Thou mayest”…and, alternatively, “thou mayest not”. What a mind expanding concept for a young guy! It wasn’t “you better not”….or “you can’t”…it was the choice between good and evil….the chance to rise or sink depending on the path we choose…that was what was most important.
God could have created a world of grey automatons…pre-programmed for obedience, with a constant and instantaneous response to every situation in line with what He desires. Instead, He made us messy…and fragile…and weak…and prone to fall down. It’s just the way we are.
But He gave us the power to choose.
I had an idea that was how things rolled before I read this book…a loose concept of the world and of Heaven and Hell, good and evil, man’s struggles,etc….as much of an understanding as a nineteen year old beer cart driver can have….but I loved this book…loved the idea of timshel.
I loved the idea that we were given the option of making our own way. We weren’t abandoned…God didn’t set this all up as some sort of weird cosmic test so he could laugh at us when we failed. I don’t think that it was some tenuous battle with the Devil…the outcome always hanging by a thread. Maybe instead…it’s the chance for Him to rejoice all the harder when we make the right…the loving…decisions.
I spent a lot of time feeling bad about myself because I never felt that I could be “good enough” for God. Now I’m at a place where I’m seeing that God created us to be human beings …with all that being a human being involves…in the world completely now…but ultimately not of the world. Being “in the world” isn’t something to be transcended …it’s not something we need to aspire to escape…to bliss out and “spiritualize” our way out of. Instead, maybe it’s something to embrace and explore. While we’re here…why not choose to enjoy what we’ve been given?
The old song that goes something like “soon and very soon, I am going to meet the Lord” makes me wonder if God ever thinks, “Oh no!! Enjoy what you have while you have it!! I look forward to seeing you…but try and bloom where you’re planted for a while…OK?”
It’s a big responsibility to be able to choose. I think it’s a lot easier if someone else is making all of our decisions for us…but that doesn’t strike me as the way it was set up.
I love the idea of timshel. I love thinking that we are given the gift of being able to choose our own path.
I love that I can still remember what it felt like to sit in a golf cart in the Atlanta heat and to be introduced to the Jewish concept of timshel…and that it resonates so strongly with me today.