I was sitting on some church steps with Elena in Siena the other day. It was so peaceful in that moment that neither of us wanted anything other than to just sit there and enjoy the sun. For some reason, I remembered a funny joke about a man who goes to his rabbi and complains about how small his house is, with his family, children and in-laws all stuffed into a small place.

“I’m at my wits end,” he says, “I don’t know what to do!”  The rabbi promises to give him advice, but only on the condition that the man promises to follow it. The man agrees.

“Do you have any animals in your garden?,” the rabbi asks.

“We have chickens and goats,” the man responds.

“For a week, you have to keep also your animals inside your house.” the rabbi orders.

“But that’s impossible!,” screams the man.

“You promised to do what I asked,” says the rabbi.

The man brings the animals inside the house, and every day he runs to the rabbi “It’s worse than ever, you can’t imagine!,” he complains.

“Just a few more days,” says the rabbi.

The man holds out until the end, and finally arrives at the seventh day. He put the animals back into the field and came to see the rabbi a few days later.

“How are things with the house?”, asks the rabbi.

“Never better,” says the man. “The house seems much bigger than before, and it’s so peaceful.”

We both laughed. Another hour went by. Surprised at this calmness, I told Elena how I used to be allergic to “contentedness” in my younger days, likening it to “giving up,” or dying. Obviously, I had thought, anyone who is “content” is just “sitting around doing nothing.”

“That’s why God gave you 12 years of suffering,” she answered.

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