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I was familiar with King Solomon’s advice to spend some quality time with the ants and learn from their industrious ways, but when I stumbled upon his imaginative description of a very lazy man in Mishlei 26:13, I was more intrigued than inspired.

“The lazy man says, there’s a lion cub in the road, there’s a lion between the streets!”


The imagery is powerful, purposefully bordering on the absurd in order to make a point. Now I am the owner of a multitude of flaws but laziness is not one of them, so I tucked this verse away into the interesting but not personally applicable file, and gave it no more thought.

In the middle of the summer my husband went to Israel for the weekend. It was a short trip with a mission; to visit his mother’s grave and to spend the weekend with our daughter who was already there. My game plan for Shabbos was to hunker down with a pile of books, and my daughter and son-in-law would join me for meals. At 6 a.m. Shabbos morning I padded my way down the stairs. It was weird to be the first one up, the only one up, the only one there; but I had coffee to drink and papers to read, so I shook off the loneliness and opened the front door to get the newspaper off the stoop. As I turned to go back inside a flash of color flickered in my peripheral vision. Lying in the center of the lawn was a skunk. It was motionless, its fur and body pristine, unmarked, as if a taxidermist had driven by and dropped an unwanted gift at my door.

Going back inside, I started to worry. I worried that the skunk would start to decompose and the stench would permeate the house. I worried that I would get a ticket from the township for not removing the skunk off the grass in a timely fashion, since clearly I couldn’t deal with it until after Shabbos. And then, in classic Chani Miller style, I allowed the worry to suck the joy out of my day.

I’ve been a worrier my entire life. It’s genetic, passed along matrilineally, manifesting itself most acutely in the oldest daughter; generation after generation after generation. For the most part I am able to channel the worry into productivity; an intricate ballet where my worry is equal parts shadow, demon, and muse.

One of the best things about Shabbos is that you live inside your head. One of the hardest things about Shabbos is that you live inside your head. You can’t escape yourself, there’s nowhere to go, especially when you’re home alone with a dead skunk in your yard. My kids came over for lunch; they checked out the skunk and named it Rottie (short for rotting). We walked over to my non-Jewish neighbor to see if he could help, an older man who puttered in his yard and seemed to know everything about the suburban outdoors; but no such luck, he wasn’t home. The day moved on, and on, and on. After Shabbos I consulted with the experts on Google. Opinions ranged from just tossing it in the regular trash to hiring a skunk removal specialist who could deal with the delicate skunk sac that if not handled properly could explode with grisly results. Sunday dawned, bright and beautiful. It was an open-the-windows kind of morning, rare for July. The first thing I did was check on Rottie. I had hoped he would have magically disappeared, or decomposed; either option would have been amazing, but alas, no such miracle had occurred. I made a concerted effort to enjoy the morning, and I did; fueled by an infusion of caffeine and sugar I opened my laptop and allowed myself to succumb to the zen of words, daydreams and Instagram reels.

A funny thing happens when you’re alone. There’s a suspension of time and space; people are muted, yet the world outside continues to pulse, to sing, to breathe. There’s a window there, a very small gap, where you can crawl in and briefly become brilliant, where secrets are exposed and solutions to problems reveal themselves so clearly that you can barely remember that there was ever a problem at all.

During my brief sojourn in this window I realized that not only did I have a skunk in my yard, I also had a lion in my street. King Solomon’s words came roaring back to life, their meaning totally reconstructed and reconfigured. How wildly, incredibly arrogant I was to consider myself immune from the character trait of laziness.

Rabbeinu Yonah in his commentary on Mishlei teaches us that there are two types of laziness; laziness of physical action and spiritual laziness. So while I’m really good at getting out of bed in the morning and tackling my to-do list, I’ve been lazy about confronting the beasts inside my head. Worry is a great motivator. It’s useful, it gets things done, it pays bills on time and makes sure you turn off the iron before you leave the house. Sometimes though it overstays its welcome, running amok in your head like an overtired toddler, stealing your sleep and making you question every life choice you ever made. Most of my worrying is very specific, situational; like skunks in the yard or house keys that break in the lock, and as soon as the problem is solved, the worry dissipates.

There’s a lion in the street! Look at my lions, the big ones, the little ones, excuses, explanations, rationalizations for why I can’t change. It’s easy, so easy to let these mighty kings of the jungle rule. I’m a perfectionist, a control freak, I need things to be just so. It’s part of my personality and look how much stuff I get done, the iron’s off, the bills are paid, so what if I ruined my Shabbos by worrying about a skunk?

In Brene Brown’s book Dare To Lead she introduces us to the concept of “choosing courage over comfort.” It’s easy to do nothing. It’s easy to stay in bed, pull the covers over your head and ignore the lions in the street. It takes strength to fight a lion, it takes strength to fight yourself. It’s easy, it’s comfortable to make excuses, it’s hard to do the work of the heart.

My Sunday morning continued to unfurl itself, the menagerie in my head temporarily tamed, appeased for the moment by the fact that they had actually been acknowledged. Even lions don’t like to be ignored. At about 11 o’clock, well into coffee number three, I became aware of a shift in the atmosphere, a subtle rustle, followed by the unmistakable odor that I had been dreading all weekend. I peered out the front window. Rottie was gone! With prescient dread, I went to the kitchen window which faced the backyard. It was a scene stolen from a National Geographic special, full of blood and guts and gore. An enormous turkey vulture was feasting on poor Rottie in the backyard. Minutes later a second vulture swooped in and together with his buddy they decimated that poor skunk, until all that was left was his fur. Sated, they strutted out from behind the house and began to preen themselves on my front lawn, circling the property and then spreading their majestic ebony wings and flying back to whatever dark underworld they had come from.

The lazy woman says, there’s a skunk in my yard!

And G-d, in his infinite kindness, upon seeing the woman’s distress, sent two scavenging messengers cloaked in black to devour the skunk.

And the woman, upon seeing that she had worried and fretted and carried on for nothing, was both grateful and chagrined.

And as she sat there at the kitchen table processing the events that had transpired over the last 24 hours, she wondered if it was truly possible to change. She wondered if writing down her story would create accountability or if it was just a work of fiction. She also hoped that the next time Animal Planet decided to stage an episode on her front lawn her fearless husband would be home to help wrangle the wildlife.

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Dr. Chani Miller is an optometrist and writer who lives in Highland Park, N.J., with her family. She is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.