This is the Yes

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

~T.S. Eliot

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Lying between the girls tonight, I was thinking of the things I wanted to write. Now I can’t remember what they were.

A couple of friends posted this T.S. Eliot quote on Facebook, and I felt it through and through, knowing that I don’t know next year’s words yet or even the voice with which I will speak or write or sing them.

My children, with infinite pools of blue eyes and the little one in her shirt and tie.

Sitting on a fire escape late at night with the man I made them with, the endings indistinguishable from the beginnings, like the flames of the three wicks of the havdalah candle joining, the spices we pass, inhaling the sweetness we want to take with us and must also leave behind.

The homeless girl named Heather singing with her brown guitar and red hat in the fog, and how I kissed her goodnight and wished her a happy new year.

How I want to live out loud, uncensored and free, to feel like myself on the outside, and to forgive myself when I fall, shut down, get scared, go small.

Sometimes Aviva behind the camera sees me in a way I cannot see myself, and she shows me a picture of a life I don’t need to make or figure out. It’s the one I’m living, or that’s living me. It just is, rolling and undulating and careless and vast as the sea. It’s a poster that catches my eye and my eye saying “Yes, that.” It’s sitting alone in a coffeeshop, pacing a parking lot, browsing in a bookstore, buying an extra taco for the man who pushes his belongings around in a shopping cart with a loose back wheel. It’s asking his name and finding out if he prefers beef or chicken. It’s not worrying about what’s next and what’s next after that. It’s dancing the hora with a gaggle of seventh-graders and cousins and aunts and uncles and babies and friends who knew me when I was a waif of a seventeen-year-old seeing Shabbat candles and hearing those blessings for the first time. It’s the moment of lighting up when you know you’re onto something true. It’s saying no even when your fears tell you to say yes, or vice versa. It’s the game-changer of trusting this inner guide, and the stillness that can take root when there’s nothing to defend.

It’s scary to be alive, to dance with life, to say yes to life, to say yes to fear, to say yes to not knowing, to say yes to the possibility that you’re not done with your changes, to say yes to a canvas way bigger than the one you picked out when you were still trying to make sure the art would fit on the walls of your house, on the contours of your changing form, on your shedding skin, on your mouth, your eyelids, the door to your heart propped open with a stone smooth as glass, etched in a language you speak haltingly yet know is beautiful, a song your soul was born singing even as you stumble over a limited vocabulary.

Do not curse your lack of fluency; no matter what you write or don’t write, no matter what you craft or shape, no matter what you choose, life will unfold. She will find you, pursue you, and remind you to keep coming out, show up just when you start disappearing again to say: This is the yes, this endless ending and this beginningless beginning, this openness to not knowing what you don’t know and trusting what you do, allowing words to spill over and flow towards the sea without pausing or steering or second-guessing their rightness or destination. To know you did it once and now you will be called to do it again and again after that, to devote yourself to a life not of performance or perfection or completion, but of courage and faith and action. Of practice.

The rabbi reminded us this morning that we do not applaud during the bat mitzvah service, even when our hearts soar with pride at the rising of a young woman in our midst reading Torah flawlessly as if she was born to stand on the bimah, composed and on her way. We do no clap for her, because she is not a performer nor are we an audience, but a congregation gathered to witness and mark these rites of passage and the passage of time, from week to week and season to season. What greater blessing there might be in this world I cannot imagine, but to learn and study and fight and forgive and reflect and act and finally to share a day of coming together, on the eve of a new year and the rest of our lives, anchored by community and family even as we must each navigate our own path.

I am alone tonight after a day filled with people and passages and meaning and joy and blessings and prayers and candles and cake. But the circles I stand within and the circles within me have their own rainbow pulses, the ones I saw in a vision earlier this week and will continue to follow as a leprechaun to treasure, a child playing shadow-tag, a poet who waits for the words to rise from silence, a mother pondering the shared root of the words “compassion” and “womb,” a woman who ended one life only to discover that she is still living it and only just beginning, a sister whose sister circles are cause for awe, a daughter who keeps seeking humility and gratitude for what is.

These are the words, the yes, the heart, the images, the thoughts as they come, all I have to offer from the quiet of my childhood home tonight, minutes now into a new day, a new month, a new year, when everything will be new and yet nothing will appear to have changed. Endings. Beginnings. And many blessings, to you.

16 thoughts on “This is the Yes

  1. Lindsey says:

    Breathtaking, Jena, as always, as usual, but thank you, thank you. The sweetness we want to take with us but must also leave behind. I’m crying, this dark new year’s morning, awake before my family. Thank you.


  2. Jennifer says:

    Ah… needed this especially: “to forgive myself when I fall, shut down, get scared, go small.” Thank you for sharing t his journey, Jena. Sweetness to you and your girls this year.


  3. Jeanette Bursey LeBlanc says:

    Oh Jena, this one i will have to print out and keep close. You beautiful soul…I cannot wait to sit with you in just a few weeks, hold you close and breathe you in.

    And this “How I want to live out loud, uncensored and free, to feel like myself on the outside, and to forgive myself when I fall, shut down, get scared, go small.” You speak for me again and again in your writing. This is what I want for this year, exactly this.


  4. kate forand says:

    Jena–I love to think of Aviva taking a photo of you, of her revealing something to you that you have yet to realize is there. That photo captures stillness, longing, love. The multitudes that are Jena.


  5. Pamela says:

    This entire piece is just a feast of gorgeousness. I have nothing to say except that I read this three times and still marvel at it. I will read it countless more times I am sure. xoxoo



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