Is it Friday Yet?
Sometimes on a Friday afternoon I’ll clear my schedule, get the train home to Brooklyn, and trade my jacket for jogging gear. I am not a committed runner, like some of my friends who seem to be constantly training for a marathon, or some portion of a marathon. I don’t measure my runs in minutes or miles. If there is a purpose to my running it is simply that I’ve noticed some correlation between my mental health and my running life. Maybe I’ll meditate as I jog and wander into that psychological space between worry and prayer. The simple fact of being away from the backlit screens that fill my week can be transcendent. No digital diversions, just thoughts and breath.
My route is not fixed, though I typically make a big looping shape around my neighborhood. I walk to the end of my block and then start running north along Bedford Ave where I witness the familiar leaving ritual that occurs on Friday afternoons in New York City. Cars full of tired city-dwellers lurch from the bowels of central Brooklyn, to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, to the series of bridges and tunnels that eventually lead to open roadway several hours outside the city. These commuters are bound for places where they expect to find rest, or entertainment, or some other serum to the workweek: a cabin in the Catskills, a casino hotel in Atlantic City, an Airbnb rental in the Hudson Valley.
Jogging through my neighborhood slows me down and narrows my vision on the granular: this garden with the tall sunflowers, this brownstone with the turquoise door, this woman selling vegetables on her stoop. With my head down en route to the subway each morning I tend to view the features and the people in my neighborhood as things that I must circumvent in order to get to work on time. But New York is best explored on foot and without an agenda.
One variation of my route keeps me aimed north on Bedford Ave where I eventually cross from yupster Bed-Stuy to the western blocks of South Williamsburg, a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood that feels, to the modern New Yorker jogging by on a Friday afternoon, completely exotic. Traversing these blocks is an experience in homogeny: nearly everyone you see on the street is a Hasidic Jew dressed in traditional clothing.
On Friday afternoons, this neighborhood is a scene of frenetic communal movement. Women with carts haul groceries amid bands of children. Bearded men in tall hats and curls walk in groups speaking what I think is Yiddish. Honda minivans are loaded and unloaded with urgency at each corner. All of this activity is an act of preparation, but not for a long weekend away.
Ten minutes from sundown, if you’re anywhere near South Williamsburg, you’ll hear what sounds like an air-raid siren announcing the start of the Jewish Sabbath, a 24-hour period in which all of this movement mellows to a quiet ripple. Shop gates are pulled shut, work ceases, emails are ignored. With much of the city frantically leaving on Friday afternoons, this small community’s shared aim is stillness.
I know very little about the Jewish Sabbath, aside from what one can read on the internet or in the Hebrew Torah, which tells us that celebrating the Sabbath was, in part, a reminder to the people of Israel that they were once slaves in Egypt, where rest and celebration would have been absent from their slave culture.
In that context, Friday evenings become far more significant than the start of your weekend social activities. True rest is not simply the absence of work responsibilities. It is a period of time for us to be reminded of and filled with the truth that we are no longer slaves to our work, or to what we have done and not done, or to who we used to be. Remember how far I have brought you, God seems to be saying.
Sometimes I prefer to distract myself from remembering how far God has brought me. Instead of seeking stillness, reflection, and legitimate rest with my wife or my church community, maybe I drink too much, or binge watch something on Netflix, or immerse myself in the empty zeal of sports. Why do I do this?
Maybe, like our first human ancestors in Eden, I am buying some lie about what I can do and become without God, the creator of all good things. Maybe I think that my effort — my work — has given me an identity in a title, fulfillment in the success of my labor, and freedom in what my paycheck allows me to buy and consume.
In this context, work is not a place that we go five days a week, but a condition brought on by Adam and Eve’s pursuit of the serpent’s lie about what they could become and who God is. Work is the result of the first lie that anyone ever believed. That’s a pretty bad genesis to anything. No wonder it’s exhausting.
In the gospel of Matthew, we read that Jesus invites us to something different. “Come to me,” he says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Rest for my soul. Sometimes I feel like my soul does nothing but rest, that it’s some dormant part of my invisible anatomy lying still while I ride the train to work, refresh my inbox, eat, sleep, and try to find time for a quick run. But perhaps all that silence is the slow and steady work of a diligent engine sustaining me, like the endurance that long-distance runners build up over many miles of practice.
I don’t always run through South Williamsburg. Usually, after making my way north on Bedford Ave, I head east on Dekalb so that I can glimpse the sculptures of the Pratt Institute’s campus, then south on St. James and, finally, weaving west on streets named after our nation’s founders — Quincy, Monroe, Madison — I cross Franklin and arrive home at Jefferson.
There’s this communal liturgy that perhaps you’re familiar with. It goes like this: “Is it Friday yet?” This is said all week, on crowded, quiet elevators, around lunchroom microwaves turning cold leftovers, in hallways as we trade small talk en route to the next meeting: “Is it Friday yet?” And our response on Friday: “Thank God it’s Friday.”
For those of us whose workweek feels like a curse, for those of us who are lost in misguided priorities, for those of us with coworkers who destroy our self worth, for those of us who are unknowingly bowed to what we do for a dollar. For all of us who are just tired of doing our work: Thank God for Friday.