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March 12, 2006


I sometimes say that I have Adult ADD. This is not meant as a clinical diagnosis. It's just that I've looked back at my life and realized that I've been fighting serious distractability problems going back at least to college. I've actually managed to be moderately successful in what I do, and my job requires careful thinking, but I still have to fight it when my mind wanders, which is, oh, approximately all the time.

It wanders when I'm working, when I'm watching a movie, when I'm writing this, pretty much whenever I'm awake. For some reason, my mind always wants to think about something other than what I want it to think about.

I've been thinking about this during daily minyan, which I suppose makes this a form of mind-wandering in itself. I'm constantly fighting to pay attention to the prayers. Sometimes my mind wanders to something about the prayers, or something else reasonably connected to what I'm doing, but sometimes it has nothing to do with the matter before me.

And reciting something from memory is an open invitation for my mind to wander. After two months of saying kaddish for my father, I'm now able to recite the kaddish from memory, even the longer kaddish d'rabbanan, which has a whole extra paragraph in it, one that no one ever says except mourners. If I'm vigilant, I can get all the way through the kaddish from memory, which strikes me as an appropriate way to recite it, even more so with eyes closed. But if I relax too much, I trip up on the words.

And there are other times when my memory plays tricks on me and wanders off into something else. For example, there's a line from the evening service "bokea yam lifnei moshe" -- who split the sea before Moses. The first two times I led the davening I inadvertently added a word -- "bokea yam suf" -- who split the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds). My addition made sense, but it wasn't there in the text. And I think I've finally figured out how it happened. Elsewhere, there's a line "yam suf bakata" -- You split the Red Sea -- which I transposed into the other text.

I've always wondered how people can recite the entire amidah from memory, even if they've davened every day for 30 or 40 years. If it were me, I'd probably start out reciting the amidah and end up reciting the periodic table. Perhaps it's harder for me because with my knowledge of Hebrew (and Aramaic) I know the meaning of only about half the text. It's not that the rest is nonsense syllables to me; it's not. I recognize the words as words, even if I can't translate them. But still, it must be a lot easier to memorize what you fully understand. Like actors who not only have to remember 2 hours' worth of lines but also have to be able to speak them with feeling and give them appropriate meaning.