Days of Awe

Awe: an emotion combining veneration and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.  

L’shana tova.  

That means “for a good year” and you don’t have to be Jewish to take in that blessing and to see these first days of autumn as the perfect opportunity to celebrate a new season, a new year, to reflect on the past and express our dreams and hopes for the year ahead.

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a 10 day period called The Days of Awe, a period of introspection and repentance that culminates on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. 

On Monday I walked to a little creek in a nearby park and threw bits of bread into the water for Tashlich, which literally translates to “casting off.” During this ceremony, Jews symbolically cast off the sins of the previous year by tossing bread crumbs into flowing water. During this ritual, people think of things they’ve done wrong in the past year and then “throw them away,” promising for improvement in the coming year.

I generally don’t think in terms of sins, but rather of where there is room for improvement, how I can be a better version of myself. The main thing I aim to throw away this year is worry and anxiety, as I spend so much time fearing the future when there is nothing I can do to change much of what happens.

People we love will get sick. Loved ones will die. So many difficult events can occur. Our circumstances can change on a dime.  There is no denying hardship and heartache that are part of life: we all will experience serious setbacks or illness at some point, eventually we all will die. Yet to dread and fear the unknown, that’s no way to live.  

I am going to try to greet each day with more courage and trust, and openness to both the good and the difficult. I am going to work on eliminating or at least minimizing the phrase “What if…” followed by the worst case scenario. I do this a lot with V, especially when we have any plans out of the ordinary. Like going to my brother and sister-in-law’s for Rosh Hashanah dinner on Sunday. What if he can’t handle the ride, if he is disruptive, if he has an accident or makes a huge mess or whatever memories I can dredge up from other visits. My family are exemplars of hospitality and won’t judge yet still I worried all week. The fact is he does fine, remarkably well for the most part, although he digs into the challah before dinner and doesn’t sleep when we get home.  As I expected, when I let the worry dissipate, it was a lovely evening. We dipped apples into honey to ask for a sweet new year, we broke bread (well, V already broke it…) and had a wonderful meal together. We spent time with those we love. Fear and worry – mentally preparing for the worst – does not change the outcome. All it does is tie me in knots that keep me from staying present.

I also think about other ways I can improve.  One simple change is to give back more.  Generosity doesn’t have to be monetary – although gifts are certainly nice and well appreciated – it can be time, attention, clear and honest communication, love and understanding. It can be cooking for someone who isn’t feeling well  or campaigning for a candidate or being a good listener to a friend in need.

I somehow got talked into taking over an initiative at V’s school where parents contribute funds or food to a monthly breakfast for the staff. In the past I would bake – often with V’s help (along with a behavior therapist usually), tripling a favorite recipe like apple cake or pumpkin bread or my scones. It was a nice way to give back, it took a few hours, was enjoyable, the house smelled great and then the hardworking staff got to enjoy what I made.  There are so few ways I feel that I can be helpful right now so it felt good to contribute.

Well, the kids of the parents behind this lovely tradition just graduated last year and they needed someone to be in charge and somehow I let myself be talked into it. Why? It will involve time and coordination and probably a few headaches. Because I am not good at saying no? On some level this is true. I have gotten better but I admit that it’s hard for me to say no to anyone. I admire those who do this with ease.

Yet in part I think why not give more of my time and energy to this breakfast? Let it take up a couple of half days a month for something that will be enjoyed and appreciated by deserving staff. (It will entail enisting T as my driver as we go for a shop and pick up food and drop it off and for this help I am grateful.)

The other positive outcome is that it will put me in touch with others’ generosity, those who are Venmoing me and those who have offered to send some food in, other people I don’t even know who I am reminded are part of the same community. 

How else can I give back? How can I be a better partner, parent, friend, sister, daughter? Instead of lamenting what I cannot give right now why not focus on what I can? To be generous with my attention and affection. To offer to help out in small ways that I can. It might not seem like it but I see this blog as a way of sharing some of myself, of trying to connect.

I also want to stop comparing and despairing. It’s all too easy – an automatic reflex in my case – to compare my circumstances to others, who seem to have it easier. Yet everyone has rough patches and and suffering. Friction and disagreement with people we care about. Unbearable loss. Full plates. We all have such different circumstances that it’s pointless to compare and yet I do. When I pull back from this bad habit I realize that I have so much to be grateful for, so many opportunities to appreciate the things that make life worth living.

What if we lived like we were always in the midst of days of awe?  If we stopped and appreciated the littlest things: the sound of rain, the feel of sunlight, a few nice words from someone, whether a stranger or friend.  The fact that we wake up each morning to a new day. 

What if we saw everything as sacred? Every breath and meal and step forward and conversation…it’s something to aspire to in the year ahead.  

And so I look back and then forward and reflect, vowing to improve as best I can.  

Shana Tova.

10 thoughts on “Days of Awe

  1. Yes! The resetting of my frame of mind is possible and helpful. Thank you, Joan, and Shana Tova. ❤️❤️❤️ Eileen


  2. Thank you for sharing, a lot of great points to think about. I love being able to reset each year and have the high holidays to reflect, but I completely agree, maybe this mindset can be revisited more often. Looking forward to seeing you this weekend!
    Love, Dan


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