For Allowing Us to Reach This Season

Photo: Dan Gold

Coffee. Perhaps this goes without saying, but it is always worth saying.

Chalupa, who has figured out how to sleep with awkward plastic cone head. Who ate breakfast from my cupped hands this morning. And is now snoring sweetly. (You know how much I love this pooch.)

“It takes a village.” And my layered relationship to this expression, my lived experience of it, and the profound gift of growing.

The conversation Mani and I had in the car yesterday, on our way to the vet in the afternoon. How there is no hidden meaning. Or how there may be — in that there is mystery — and also: Meaning is what we decide. We don’t have to seek or create it.

Fall. The 40-degree temperature swings. Back to school. Pearl woke up with a slight fever and a head cold. Tis the season.

Incremental change. How big decisions often come suddenly, but not out of nowhere. There is something sacred here for me — maybe it’s related to the meaning thing — about seeing this in myself and in my actual life. The subtle but profound impact of really learning how to listen.

Humility. Stands alone.

Growing up, I did not know about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. I did not know about Shabbat or kashrut or the Shema. I did not know mitzvah from challah. I did not know Inquisition or Holocaust.

As a child, I took ASL at a school for the deaf in Buffalo. My signing partner was an elderly woman who’d lost her hearing.

I wanted to be able to speak without making a sound, like I did at the piano.

When I was 15, I spent a summer in Spain. I saw swastikas spray-painted on brick walls. I knew this was the land of my father, and the language came from an old place in me, one I didn’t have to work hard to find.

When I was 16, I went to Russia. I rode trains through dense birch forests, far north, near the Finnish border. I was never afraid of the men, though maybe I should have been. I opened my mouth to speak and surprised them. I knew this was the land of my mother, a place her grandparents fled.

Israel. I go there in dreams. I am home.

In Prague, the way the stones in the old Jewish cemetery toppled, falling over each other, felt like time itself.

This kitchen. I made pot after pot of white Carolina rice, hauled shipments of Ensure up from the porch, determined to keep her alive.

The Shehechiyanu. The blessings that says: “Thank you for allowing us to reach this season, this moment, this time.” We recite it to mark the first of something. That first may occur cyclically — like the first night of Hanukkah — or it may be a one-time thing, like the first time a child loses a tooth or the first time a certain group of people has gathered.

בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ יָהּ אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָתְנוּ וְקִיְּמָתְנוּ וְהִגִּיעָתְנוּ לַזְּמָן הַזֶּה
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

I learned these things by learning these things. I am not what you think but I am exactly who you believe me to be. It was not easy, discovering myself. It was 40 years of wandering. Despair and thirst and a hunger so deep it devoured me from the inside out.

But it was worth it. So very worth it. To arrive here. Here to this life. Here to this work. Here to this wife, these children, this community. Here to this moment in time, with its urgency, with its clear mandate to stand up and be counted and to know that every word, every silence, every encounter, every choice counts.

Prayer. How it has many forms. How it might be communal and it might be intensely solitary. How we all carry so many rungs, like old-growth trees.

I do not pledge allegiance to any flag. But I do bow my head before something I can only call God. Call this what you will or nothing at all. That’s why there are so many names, so many doorways, so many paths up this steep mountain.

And if you want, take my hand.

Forgiveness

book

“How does one know if she has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to say about it all.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

In my tradition — Judaism — tonight marks the beginning of the Days of Awe. For ten days between the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), it is believed that the Book of Life lies open. During this time, we do what is called t’shuvah. Literally, this word has to do with “turning.” We turn inward and reflect on the past year, paying particular attention to the places where perhaps we stumbled, faltered, missed the mark, or just really f*&!ed up. We take stock of our lives. We reach out to those we may have hurt, knowingly or unknowingly, and ask forgiveness. And we come together communally, to recognize all of the ways we must return, as an in people.

I find equal parts gratitude for and resistance to this practice. Gratitude, because inherent in its imperative is this: We are human. We are human and thus, we are going to make mistakes. We cannot avoid being human, but as humans, we can grow. We can learn. We can say, “I’m sorry.” We can look into our own hearts and face the places where armor replaced permeability, where anger overtook compassion, where pride eclipsed humility. These are not small things. These are the biggest things of all. And while we can cultivate the habit of being self-aware year-round, there is something about having a concentrated period of time each year to focus on our missteps — communally and individually — that brings those chickens home to roost. Thus, the resistance: These aren’t always easy to sit with.

What this isn’t: An excuse to beat ourselves up. What this is: An opportunity to really sit and consider where we’ve veered off-track, away from our values and priorities. Life gets busy and busier, full and overflowing, and not always in a good, abundant kind of way. I know I get swept into the current of everyday responsibilities, sometimes to the detriment of being fully present to the people right in front of me — including myself. This time of year, for me as a Jew and for the Jewish people, is a chance to turn back to what is holy and important and sacred in this life of ours.

Some people go to temple, to sing ancient songs and read the same prayers as Jews around the world. Some people go to the woods or the water to listen for God’s still small voice or mighty roar. Some ignore such rituals altogether. There are so many ways up the mountain.

Some acts are easy to forgive. “I’m sorry I was mad at you that one time,” a child might say to a parent, and it is not difficult (one hopes) for the parent to soften, to take the child into her arms and say, “Oh, my sweet love. I forgive you!”

Others are stickier and take longer, a lifetime even, to work on. I imagine we all have many examples of these. Forgiving someone for hurting us takes a tremendous amount of courage. It is not always possible for all parties involved to come together. And so whether or not we know for sure someone we’ve hurt has accepted our contrition, the courageous thing also becomes to forgive ourselves. For me, this always boils down to being human: looking honestly into my own heart to understand why I did or said something that hurt someone else; listening honestly for whether I’m being truthful with myself; and hopefully learning and growing in ways that will positively inform and affect my future actions.

We don’t always know when we’ve hurt someone else, and it is a great gift when someone trusts you enough that they come forth to tell you: This hurt. Because it is only then that true reflection and healing can happen.

Jewish or not, forgiveness is among the most universal of things we face as humans. This week, what if you sit down to write a story of forgiveness? Whether it is an old story, one you can return to easily, or a new one that still hurts to touch, explore its different nuances. How did things like pride, ego, humility, and self-reflection play into the way things played out? Were you able to resolve things and find peace, or does the experience feel like it’s still an open book and you don’t know how it will end? What shift in perspective or even words — to yourself or another person — would change things?

“Forgiveness does not mean that we suppress anger; forgiveness means that we have asked for a miracle: the ability to see through mistakes that someone has made to the truth that lies in all of our hearts. Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness. Attack thoughts towards others are attack thoughts towards ourselves. The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.” – Marianne Williamson

L’shana tova u’metukah. May 5777 bring you a sweet new year, filled with ease, connection, humility, forgiveness, joy, solace, justice, and renewed presence and peace.