The Days of Awe — the 10 days between Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), it’s time to clean up our act. We reflect on our thoughts and deeds, words and actions over the last year which may have hurt others, then reach out to the injured party to apologize and make amends. Based on the premise that only we can fix our own human messes, this stretch of time calls us toward self-reflection and right action.
I speak of “we” here even if, dear reader, you’re not Jewish because I’m thinking that 1) we all could use all the new years we can observe at this point, and 2) in a year when so much is beyond our control (a pandemic, climate change, systemic racism, and escalating polarization between people), it’s helpful to consider what we can do. We can look at our own participation in and perpetuation of what hurts each other (humans and other species) and the earth, consider what small step or few words might help, and step up to do some good.
It also feels to me like we’ve been in the Days of Awe since about March 14th when the pandemic shut down life as we knew it and opened up big fears and spaces, possibilities and dangers about how we live. After all, the “awe” part of these days isn’t just what dazzles and pleases but also what shocks and scares. So often over these last six months, I realized how much less I understood than I thought about everything from the pacing of my day to assumptions I made about racism. There’s nothing like living with a mysterious global threat to wake a person up out of her long inscribed and sealed ideas about her life and the world.
But then again, the Days of Awe are also and always about asking to be inscribed (at Rosh Hashana), and then sealed for a good year (Yom Kippur) in the Book of Life. Traditionally, this is a book God reads to judge our actions, but I see it the life we’re writing ourselves into through all we are, do, and know as well as the life force at large. So why not read over the book of life we’ve drafted this last year to see how to make small repairs, big amends, and deep commitments to live boldly and act lovingly? Or as the Talmud says better: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
I wish for all of us to be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year, and I leave you with a poem I wrote about all this as you move through your own days and nights of awe and so much more.
Entering the Days of Awe
Let us walk unfettered into these days
unfurling in the sun, wide fields of old grasses
bracketed by sunflowers and pebbles.
Let us step into the lapis sky that fastens itself
to the driveway, the sidewalk, the worn leaves
of dying summer under new leaf fall.
Let us give up the wasteful thinking,
the 2 a.m. anxieties over what cannot be changed,
the waking with a gasp. Let us stand in the morning,
the new chill of the air clearing the disgards of time,
fear, reaching too hard or not enough.
Let the wrongs be made right. Let forgiveness
overtake the words we hear and pray, the stories
we’ve made and tilted. Let us remember this dreaming song
from all our beloveds long gone or just over the bend,
each note engraved with lost lands, singing
of how good it is when we dwell together.
Let the peripheral vision in the days of awe show us
the world, the first seeing of the heart, the last pulse
of those we love who travel with us. Let the wind shake
the trees, the tattered leaves shine, the last butterflies
flash their orange, the first dark blue of night
open into a panorama of past and present light
on its way to us all.
Let the next breath we take inscribe us in the book of life.
Let the next breath you give welcome us home.
~ Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg