“after the dry hot winds of summer”

…for 2,000 years and more, the Jewish people have celebrated the new year on Rosh Hashanah in the month of Tishri, which the Bible calls the seventh month. It is the month of early fall, of catching our breath after the dry hot winds of summer. Because it is the seventh month, it echoes the seventh day, the Shabbos of rest and contemplation, of catching our breath after six days of hard work.

From Seasons of Our Joy, by Arthur Waskow.

I tried starting this post earlier, in the quiet time between the children’s Rosh Hashanah service at OZ, lunch with the girls at Sadie Katz deli, and tashlich at the lake. But it wouldn’t come.

It will, in its time. May be a day or a week, but I have come to trust the rhythm of these words, how the time seems to present itself as ripe eventually.

What I am sitting with tonight is this.

The summer is over.

It happened in one fell swoop. A week ago it was a sweltering 95 degrees, and tonight, the rain, the rain I so strongly associate with the onset of the High Holidays, is here, washing the world clean, announcing, like the shofar blasts this morning, the beginning of a new season.

I’m remembering how it felt to stand with a congregation near the lake today, so many faces, families, some beloved, others simply familiar. Community. How I could barely sing Avinu Malkeinu through my tears. How a friend gave me some stale cinnamon swirl bread, which I cast into the water one small piece at a time, each carrying a word, a belief, a habit, a way that no longer serves me, or that hurts others, or that I am simply done with and ready to live into a life without. The sky was brooding by then, a silver mood that wrapped itself around me like a prayer shawl.

Faith and courage. These have been my guiding words lately. They mean more to me than I ever could have imagined.

During the Days of Awe, the ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is said that the Book of Life lies open. It is an intensely introspective time, our chance – both individually and collectively, for as Jews the two are inseparable – to do t’shuvah, to reflect, to amend, and to determine one’s kavanah – the direction of the heart – for the coming year.

So the work of T’shuvah is, as the Hebrew meaning suggests, turning: to turn from our earthly mundane existence to the deep within where the soul directs our lives. It’s more than resolving not to sin again, it’s learning to listen to that still, small voice, that resounds from deep within. We can’t listen if were preoccupied with the busy-ness of everyday life; we have to practice conscious, awake listening. We can do that through simply paying attention. Maybe that’s what the Torah means when it says “Sh’ma Yisroel”, Hear O Israel.

(Read the entire piece here)

That still, small voice.

I’ve been listening for it my whole life.

Following it, too. Sometimes against reason, logic,  “better judgment,” and all the other tricks the mind plays while the heart is busy beating. Sometimes despite loving and well-intentioned advice, opinions, projections and perspectives. And always, one thing leads to another. So far, I wouldn’t change a thing.

God knows, yes God knows, none of this means it’s easy.

I recall what Diane, a woman of incredible joy and depth, my mother’s age, said to me when I was 22 and agonizing about quitting the dream job I had landed after college: “Follow your bliss.” Deceptively simple, maybe, but as true as advice can come.

We were sitting at an outdoor cafe somewhere on Amsterdam Ave., a few blocks from the beautiful office where my desk overlooked Lincoln Center. I “confessed” to her that I was thinking seriously about leaving. I wanted to go to Bread Loaf for a ten-day workshop with the poet Deborah Digges, to travel, to write, to see what would happen. Despite my bowel-dropping fears of not knowing and taking the less charted route, I also knew I couldn’t not do it. That still, small voice just wouldn’t let up. Quietly, persistently whispering to me day and night, in my Brooklyn apartment, on the subway, running along the river,

telling me what I needed to do:

trust me, trust me, trust me, trust.

The 200 or so pages of raw memoir material I churned out last winter simply tell one version after another of this story, the one where I struggle against myself, the one where I am split between what I want or am called to or simply, inexplicably know to be true and “right,” and what I think I should do, who I think I should be, and, of course, how my choices and decisions will affect others, especially those I love.

Then I put those pages in a binder in a box on a shelf in a room, and wondered, what is this really about? No longer satisfied with the Heather McHugh line I’ve so loved to quote: “Poetry is not about about.” Suddenly, I needed an “about” but had no idea what it was.

But of course, it was there, deep down in the soil.

It grew this summer, that tenacious seed of the soul. Without knowing it, I’ve been watering it for years, and suddenly, it made itself known, visible, broke through the surface, a fragile bloom no longer willing to be accommodated underground, at once unbearably threatening and beautiful.

And now, after the dry hot winds of summer, it’s time to catch my breath.

5 thoughts on ““after the dry hot winds of summer”

  1. tekeal says:

    happy new year! i love how your writing, your words, are like mirrors, question marks. i wish i had a congregation to belong to which did rituals like you mentioned at the lake. i’m reminded that i need to create more of such things for myself, with people that i love, and who love me. i grew up in a very open mixed-faith-not-really-following any-tradition family, but my motherline/ jewish roots pull quietly these years… and i am also listening to the quiet voice which is longing for more mindful, conscious ways to remember the divine in daily life. may we each find more of our breath…

    Like

  2. Renae C says:

    I can’t wait to see what blooms. I needed these words today. Transition and letting go of the expected path seems to be in the air. I’m not Jewish by birth, but I must be Jewish in heart… I had not recognized until reading this post that my longing for the New Year to begin in September was grounded in Jewish custom and tradition. Maybe something I should incorporate into my life in a more meaningful way. I’m glad you have decided to hang around and continue to share your words here in this space.

    Like

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