We can learn so much from the liturgies of other faith traditions. These are the 10 Days of Awe, Yamim Noraim in the Jewish calendar. They begin with Rosh Hashanah, New Year’s day celebrating the day the world was born, and end in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Rabbi Melissa Weintraub draws attention to the Days of Awe in an article in the Huffington Post. She calls the Yamim Noraim “a kind of high speed enactment of our life’s journey from birth to death”. She says “our liturgy brings us to the edge of the precipice between life and death in order to create the emotional conditions for urgent expression”
She recalls seeing her “schmaltzy” father leaning over his walker crying his heart out. He said, “I never got to say goodbye. Everyone – my mother, sisters, and brothers – all died without knowing how much I loved them.” She suggests that the Yamim Noraim summon us to rehearse the end of our lives – “to lean over our walkers in advance. To say what we need to say before it is too late.”
She illustrates her point by sharing a moving account of Steve Martin’s final meeting with his father, with whom he had had a difficult relationship.
I walked into the house they had lived in for 35 years, and my weeping sister said, “He’s saying goodbye to everyone.” A hospice nurse said to me, “This is when it all happens.” I didn’t know what she meant, but I soon would..
I walked into the bedroom where he lay, his mind alert but his body failing. He said, almost buoyantly, “I’m ready now.” I understood that his intensifying rage of the last few years had been against death and now his resistance was abating. I stood at the end of the bed, and we looked into each other’s eyes for a long, unbroken time. At last he said,”You did everything I wanted to do.”
I said, “I did it because of you.” It was the truth.
I sat on the edge of the bed. Another silence fell over us. Then he said, “I wish I could cry, I wish I could cry.”
At first I took this as a comment on his plight, but I am forever thankful that I pushed on. “What do you want to cry about?” I finally said.
“For all the love I received and couldn’t return.”
He had kept his secret, his desire to love his family, from me and my mother his whole life. It was as though an early misstep had kept us forever out of stride. Now, two days from his death, our pace was aligning, and we were able to speak.
I sometimes think of our relationship graphically, as a bell curve. In my infancy, we were perfectly close. Then the gap widened to accommodate our differences and indifference. In the final days of his life, we again became perfectly close.
There is a physicality to the introspection of the Days of Awe. Rabbi Melissa shows us some of the scope of atonement. I am grateful for her insights from a tradition that prepares such care-full celebrations of the grace of new life and atonement.
L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year.
Thank you to slgckgc for the photo of the shofar blowing.