The leaves are slowly beginning to change colors, the days just a little bit shorter and even though we may be still experiencing summer-like temperatures, the state of mind is that of “back to school” and new beginnings. I think that mentality stays with us forever even if our school days are far behind. The summer is more relaxed and we push things off until that magic moment, the day after Labor Day, when we shift gears. The beach or the lake may still be beautiful but something has changed and we think of all the things we put off and start to spend our time differently.
Who doesn’t remember the excitement of “back to school?” It was all about the new clothes and shoes for me. I loved shopping with my mother and planning my outfit for the first day of school. Remember when lunch boxes were “cool”? I remember my favorites, all packed up and ready to go. Even looking at all my new pens and pencils, notebooks and other supplies filled me with excitement of a new year, a new start.
Though it has been years since I went back to school the feeling has continued, as I have been able experience the same excitement with my own children.
So, this year is a change in gears after a very long time. It is the first year in many years that “back to school” really represents a big change for my family and me. For my children it means moving out of the house, to another state, to a new life. For me, the typical excitement turns a bit to fear and also reflection, a lot of reflection.
The early fall also brings with it the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur another sign of a new start, a new year.
This is one of those times when I understand what it is like to be different. Life does not stop because of the Jewish holidays, like other holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. My husband takes a day off from work as I did for years. My sons still have classes and will not be home for the holidays. They must make a big effort to observe the holiday if they are so inclined. I will miss them as it will be the first time at I will go to services without at least one of them by my side.
This time of year is super busy, filled with commitments, activities, meetings, events and Jews around the world take leave, excuse themselves, which is not always so easy, and reflect, repent and renew. This is our new year. A chance to take a “time out”. This year, more than ever, I embrace the holiday. I need it.
There is a lot to reflect on. My children are no longer children. I am no longer a “spring chicken”. Many people around me are aging and mortality is becoming clearer. I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina on vacation after saying goodbye to my sons at college. The history of Charleston gives me pause. I envision what life may have been like 200 years ago. People were at odds with each other and did not respect differences. Some things have not changed and that is unsettling as we see example after example in our own communities and other parts of the world. I wonder what it will be like 200 years from now. I can’t even imagine and the reality strikes me that I will never know.
My thoughts now focus on where I may want to spend my days “after children.” What does retirement mean? How do I want to spend my time? What have I learned in my 51 years on this earth and what is most important in life?
Yom Kippur reminds us to slow down and use the opportunity for reflection, self examination and renewal. It is a time of introspection and forgiveness and a promise to do better. What promises will I make to myself and carry through in the days to come? How will I make a difference in the world, knowing there are many obstacles to following through on promises when life is so busy and filled with so many demands?
It is also a time to pray for peace and tolerance in this world.
I take the time to appreciate how thankful I am for the years I have been blessed with after two bouts with cancer. I remember back to the Yom Kippur when I attended services wearing a wig and I prayed for strength to recover.
We set time aside to remember our loved ones who are no longer with us. I reflect on how much I miss my mother, my two grandmothers and my grandfather, all who were always such a presence during the holidays.
I listen to the music of my favorite prayer and feel close to my mother. For a minute she is sitting next to me, whispering. We are talking about her rings, and her outfit and my hair, my jewelry (no not about anything spiritual). I think of my grandmother telling us all that the rabbi “gave her permission” to not attend services this year. After years of sitting in the synagogue in the same seat year after year, I think she was just done, finding excuses not to have to go anymore. It was her hip or her back, not really sure. She would come for the dinner though. I think of my maternal grandmother’s chopped liver. I wish they could see my sons and who they have become.
Spirituality means something different to everyone. Some people confuse it with religion. They think because they are not religious they are not spiritual. For me it is about being in touch with who you are, and what is most important to you. Sitting in a synagogue, listening to music on my iPhone , taking a morning walk, are all ways in which I get my energy. Our reflections and commitments for change energize us. How we sustain the momentum throughout the year is the true challenge and test.
I am thankful for the time to make a plan for myself. We are never to old to make changes and rediscover ourselves.