For close to an hour I sit with my eyes closed; they feel heavy, but sleep won't come. The airplane cabin is dark, most passengers sleeping, and on a restless impulse I pry up the shade on the nearest window and look outside. We're flying into a sunrise. Alongside the plane the skies are dark, but up ahead there's a thick melting band of beautiful orange. Piled above it are successive stripes of yellow-white, then blues darkening to black; at the foot of the sunrise the cloudscape is gray-blue, like the surface of an alien planet. This is the world I live in, and it's a blessing to see it this way.
Each scientist seems like a neuron. The neuron has its own activities, its own rate and intensity of firing, but at the same time its actions are inseparable from what other neurons are doing; connections have formed and will form between neighboring neurons or neurons that are at a remove from each other, and while the activity of a single neuron might be relatively simple, when they fire together, or in response to one another, the patterns of activity give rise to complex knowledge and understanding, a broader and more detailed picture of a given phenomenon or entity in the world.
There's time to explore, both at the beginning of the day and in the evening; there's time to squint at cathedral gargoyles, sip tea in a crowded room with flowers and wide windows, stroll through a garden in dusk when the midges are out and the skies are overcast, climb the narrow steps to a fun museum where a king is cross-examined, walk alongside a shadowed river, and stand at the site of a massacre, yet another eruption of hate and blood lust.
We're with gracious hosts. They give us a place at their table, delicious food, conversation on all sorts of topics, singing and simcha; they offer us reflections on life, the holidays, human nature and purpose and ask us to share our own thoughts. It's a warm room we're in, with light wood floors, shelves with lots of books, and the table (or tables) where everyone gathers. It's the sort of room that can somehow fit forty people almost as easily as it fits seven.
Sunset as seen from a bench in Hyde Park. It seems like we're sitting within a glass marble streaked with peach, gold, blue, and feathery gray.
In the early morning we walk on the walls of a city. On each side there are houses with chimney pots, slopes of green gold grass, brick and stone smattered with ivy, cobbled roads feeding into asphalt streets, dark furrowed trees heavy with leaves, and at our feet snails have emerged after the night's rain.
There are many different kinds of shofar notes on Rosh Hashanah. Sometimes the notes are precise, efficient and somewhat mechanical; the shofar-blower rises, performs his duties skillfully, and then returns to his seat. Other times the shofar seems to strain against the fabric of the air, against the boundaries of sound itself; there's so much feeling and effort, so much longing and appeal. The shofar blasts and rasps and lets out a wild fierce pleading blare of sound. Other times only a gasp emerges; the shofar-blower pauses, takes a deep breath, shuts his eyes in concentration and makes another attempt. During one round of shofar-blowing a two year old child is laughing wildly; the two sounds together are beautiful - the long yearning note of the shofar, straining with every wordless hope and resolution and plea, and the child pealing happily alongside it.