By Isabella Furth, Pantry Volunteer
For years, I have been fiercely protective of my Saturdays. As it is for many people, my work week is a bustle of work and meetings and activity. Sundays are full of church, music rehearsals, and gearing up for the week to come. But Saturdays! For me, they are the day of rest. There’s time for a swim, a walk, an outing, visiting a friend, doing the crossword, cooking. A time to relax, to think, to slow down and make room for things outside the world of work and consumption and productivity. Saturdays are my Sabbath. For years, when faced with any standing commitment, no matter how important or worthwhile—if it meant giving up Saturdays I would give it a pass. And then in March 2020, Maureen McNair called me, looking for volunteers to work at the food pantry. On Saturdays.
In that moment, it was an easy call. As the pandemic pushed us into our homes, I was craving people and connection. I wanted to do something to help my community get through this calamity. And in the topsy-turvy lockdown world, time was stretching and contracting in weird ways. With every day blurring into a haze of Zoom calls and sourdough experiments, Saturdays just didn’t have that special Saturday vibe.
Besides, I told myself, it’ll just be a couple of months. Then everything will be back to normal, and I can have my Sabbath back.
That was almost three years ago. My work weeks have returned to something like their pre-pandemic shape. Sundays are filling up again. And yet I seem quite content to have Saturdays be pantry days—a far cry from years when, if I had to give up my Saturdays for a while, I counted the weeks until I could reclaim them.
But a few days ago, I heard a podcast that gave me a bit of insight. In it Ezra Klein was interviewing Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. She described the Sabbath in both Christian and Jewish traditions not so much as a series of prohibitions (don’t drive a car, don’t read anything but Scripture, don’t look at your phone) but as a way of mindfully creating a space and time that is set apart from the demands of the rest of the week. A Sabbath, she said, involves four steps: 1) step away from work and the focus on getting and consuming and producing; 2) do it in a community; 3) make it a regular habit; and 4) make it festive, especially by sharing a meal.
Oh, I thought--the pantry isn’t stealing my Sabbath energy. It’s enhancing it.
What matters at the pantry is not how much money you have or how productive you are. What matters is that we are all there together, gathering food and sharing it around. It is a shared ritual, held every week (todos los sabados, as I say so often) sanctifying a communal space with love, food, care, and fun.
I do enjoy an occasional weekend away from pantry work. And my Saturday afternoons are once again dedicated to walks and crosswords and naps and cooking. But it turns out I didn’t need to reclaim my Sabbath from the pantry. I never gave it up.
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