The Sukkah and the Unicycle

October 2, 2015

Soon after my husband and son #2 spent the day putting up our sukkah, I turned to my youngest and asked for his help with the decorating. His reply was one of the craziest excuses I’ve ever heard, and that’s saying a lot. The boy has cooked up a few doozies in his day.

“I can’t. I have to build a unicycle,” he said, half listening to me because he was busy making plans.

Though I should have known better, I assumed he was pulling my leg. I mumbled thank you very much without bothering to suppress my sarcasm and went off to hang the decorations alone. But the distinct buzz of power tools, followed by the smell of smoke, interrupted my draping of faux greenery around our little hut. Wonder Woman-like, I flew down off the ladder in search of the source.

I found the garage door wide open, my son kneeling on the driveway while he dismantled his old, broken bicycle with his father’s Dremel.

“What are you doing?” I asked in the way I do when I’m not sure I want to know.

“I told you. I’m building a unicycle.”

“Oh, yeah. That.”

“Believe in me, Ma,” he said, giving me his signature earnest look.

Of course I do, and I reminded him as much. Because this wasn’t the first encounter of its kind, I was also able to maintain calm, gently cautioning him to do his best to keep out of the ER. He grinned, pointing to his safety glasses before sending me back to the sukkah, where I thought less about the decorations I was duct-taping to the walls and more about my son’s sense of purpose. I admit, too, I was happy he wasn’t playing games on the computer.

For him, there will be only the success or failure to transform his defunct bicycle into a functional unicycle. He will likely not recognize the inherent meaning in the process or the bravery at the heart of creative gumption, or even the risk to his self-confidence. I, however, have witnessed all of those things and it’s been remarkable to see the elbow grease he’s devoted to this challenge nonetheless. If he succeeds, I’ll cheer the loudest. If he fails, I’ll console him with complete attention, but failure will not diminish the value in his mother’s eyes of the undertaking itself, nor will it convince me to order a unicycle for him from Amazon, because that is miles away from the point.

There is cause for optimism in his progress. He labored for hours the first day, until black grease stained all the creases on his hands. Though he has caved to occasional moments of frustration since, rubbing his brow in fear of defeat, he has found the courage to keep at it with new wisdom from YouTube and tools borrowed from our friends. He’s now in the home stretch, with plans to bring the almost-unicycle to a friend who owns an auto body shop, where he will weld the final bits together under the owner’s supervision. Until it’s done, we will not know the verdict, but I will join him in believing until the last moment. After all, both the sukkah and his unicycle are constructs of faith, requiring us to notice the complicated nuances and the wonder in the simplest of things.

We have a hurricane coming, so I stole peeks through the slats of our sukkah’s roof as often as I could today, when there were still pockets of dry on a calm, but wet day. Against the darkening sky, I listed what worries me, and what I fear in the world: the disappointments, the possibilities for disaster, the dangers we cannot see. As the slimmest rays of light beamed their way in, I was reminded, too, of what can go right, of how each of us can shine our own way, and of how much of life is devastatingly beautiful.

And I thought to myself: You know what? Putting up a sukkah every fall may be among the highlights of our year, but once in a lifetime, everyone should build a unicycle.