It is an awe-inspiring thing to be created in the image of God. People forget the responsibility that puts on them. Because God is a creator. If we are created in God’s image, then it is incumbent upon us to create. We are, by that act of being, creators. We create with every breath we take. If we aren’t careful, however, what we create won’t be fit to be sold in a government-issue store in a communist country. It will be dull, colourless, badly stitched together and ill-fitting. When we review our years as part of the Yommim Noraim, one of the things to do is note the badly made things we have created and get rid of them. Another thing to do is to plan this year’s creations.
That’s right – plan. Because it’s easy to create garbage. Peel a banana and there you have it – a banana peel, done. But to create something worthy of being in God’s image, that takes planning, it takes determination, it takes creativity, and it takes love. Without planning, it won’t be possible. You know the saying, “the devil is in the details?” Picture him there – waiting to drag you down with him, tempting you to waste time and do things that are not creative in any way. So, I plan what I want to have next year. As part of that, I celebrate this year’s creations.
I taught full time all year. Yes, that’s a creation – all those students who know math better, who like math better and more importantly, who know that cheating gets caught, that prioritising work leads to success, that they have ability, that they can’t ride on that ability but need to work – that is a beautiful creation, and I played a part in it. A family who love each other, who grow together, who learn from each other – and who think that being Jewish is fun. That’s my creation too. I’m not the only one on this creative team, but at least I played a small part. I wrote a lot. I blogged Elul, I counted the Omer, and I prepared tons of interesting, creative materials for math classes. Although most of my writing is a bit cheesy, repetitive and mediocre, occasionally, I write good stuff and I’m proud of what I write. So, this year, I will continue to create in the areas of family, teaching, writing. What else?
Fighting for a better world? Maybe – that could be a neat creation. Increasing connections with friends? Improving the appearance of my surroundings? (I don’t HAVE to be a slob, right?) These are all things I could create this year. These are all goals around which I could make plans. And once I’m done the planning, I’m just started. It’s going to take a lot of determination for me to continue. I’m a procrastinator and little things take me forever. I’m going to want to quit. Anything that could distract me probably will. For instance, I have decided that there will be 29 Blog Elul posts this year. It was NOT easy to get my butt in this chair to write this one.
I need creativity to do the things I do – and creativity hurts, because it means I am invested in the work I do. I want – no, I need it to reflect my emotions. Which means I pick at emotional scars every time I sit down to write, I prod at relationships to see which bit hurts – and then I use that bit to write from, because it is the one that will add the colour and texture and make sure I’m not producing boring material. I know many people say you’re either creative or you’re not. I disagree. We are all created in God’s image. We are all creative. You are either willing to face the pain or you’re not. If you’re coming from a place of shame and embarrassment, you won’t be and you’ll find that the words don’t come, the paint won’t flow, the conversation will end abruptly as you walk away from those you should be with, and you will be completely unable to create.
And that’s where the love must come in, because if I don’t love it, I won’t do it – or I’ll do it mechanically, keeping my self insulated from it. I love what I do – and I’ve tried doing stuff I don’t love, and I’m so good at faking it that lots of people thought it was good creative work. I knew however, and God knew that it was just nicely painted garbage, and not worthy of being seen, especially during the High Holy Days.
So, to create is …well, here is an image. To create, plan to build a fire. Get the supplies and build it hot. Now stick your hands in it. Yes it’s supposed to hurt, that’s the creativity. Use determination and love to keep your hands in the flames. No, you don’t get burned up in this fire. Instead you pull out something incredible, whose beauty reminds you that you were made in God’s image with the power of creation.
Yizkor – to remember. We take time during the year to remember those who died, who are now just memories in this world. We remember them in the midst of our prayer and repentance, because all of it is a gift from them. This year, I will be seeing two faces when I say Yizkor, my father and someone who was as close as a parent, my step mother in law.
I will hear daddy’s voice every time I say any of the words in Hebrew or listen to the men singing. I will remember that he learned a new culture and a new language in his 30s, and did it well enough to write poetry in English, to appreciate a good pun or tell a horrible dad joke. I will remember him telling me that yes, some of us have difficult circumstances to overcome. We can either overcome them, or whine that the world owes us something. The funny thing is that we might convince the world to give us what we want but we are unlikely to get true support, friendship or admiration that way. If we work harder and make it, we might.
When I make plans for the future, promising to have a better year, I’ll see Peg, warmly listening to our plans for the kids, hear her advising us to not try to accomplish the impossible, but to set realistic reasonable goals and then do them. I’ll hear her talk about the importance of planning with care, of taking time for plans and ideas, of making the plans work through continuous effort. I’ll also hear her advising us to have some good times in the present too – future planning is good and necessary – but so are board games.
When I hear the shofar, I will think of my father reminding me that tradition matters, that sometimes we do things we don’t like or don’t understand just because they’re traditional – and that is an excellent thing. I will remember watching Fiddler on the Roof with him, and thinking how he exemplifies the “tradition” song in some undefinable way – because even though he was not that religious, even though he left one country for another, losing all childhood traditions and continuity, even though – it is from him that I know about tradition, how much it can give me and how important it is.
When I pick out my most beautiful Rosh HaShanah outfit, I picture Peg helping me on with my wedding dress, fixing my daughters’ hair and making everything look right. Our styles didn’t always match and we both have issues when it comes to making healthy food choices and maintaining the appearance we want. Nevertheless, she cared about the way things looked and made beautiful clothes that made people look better, and put out decorations, and took the time to focus on appearance. She brought beauty into the world.
When I talk to people this holiday season, I will remember laughter, because dad and Peg sure both could laugh. They loved good jokes, but also just laughed for joy some of the time. I will remember singing – they both sang, different things and with different voices, but they sang. I will remember hugs and warmth and easy touch. They had no trouble sharing physical connection and intimacy. They were not confused about parent child boundaries, and kept those firm and appropriate, but within them, Peg and daddy were amazing at giving simple touches of comfort and reassurance.
When I pray, I will remember clear, deep and abiding faith – not always in the same thing, or in the same way, but faith. I never had problems knowing where they stood when it came to love, or faith, because really, sometimes those two words totally overlap. I will remember not words, not pictures, not anything outward, but feelings – the feeling of being loved and cherished and the feeling that says Love is, God is and all is well in the world. That feeling – that support – most of all, I will remember that.
It’s almost time for the Yizkor prayer. I have people I love whom I’ve lost. I have something to Remember.
Prepare – #BlogElul
Really, one should prepare. One should prepare to let go. One should prepare to change. One should prepare for days off and shuls on, one should prepare for family traditions and for the school year. We do a lot at this time of year – it’s a little crazy. Summer vacation is done now, school is starting and we have to do all the things we need to be ready for.
And preparation takes time and planning, thought and investment, care and concern. It’s not just a matter of filling out forms, it’s a matter of deciding which forms to fill out. And there’s no time. You can’t take fencing and figure skating and piano and martial arts and have a part time job and do well in school – you can’t do it all, so those agonizing “what to give up” decisions have to be taken. And you know you’re going to do it wrong – you’ll miss a preparation task and leave for the big trip without your passport, or without the right currency, or without a bathing suit –you will miss the mark somewhere. And finally, things will go wrong no matter how well you plan, because at the last minute, you realize that the cat peed on the shoes you were planning to wear to the show, or the course you wanted to take was cancelled, or the airplane was delayed by 8 hours.
What? Elul is not about all that outer stuff? It’s emotional preparing? Well, all of the above happens on an emotional and spiritual level as well. I know I will not achieve perfection in the coming year. I know that I can’t fix every character flaw in the next month and arrive at Tishrey all ready for the new year. I am still likely to have to decide which relationship to celebrate, which to repair, which to salvage, and which to give up on because not all will last until next year. I will do a lot of it wrong – my apologies will hurt rather than heal, revealing wounds that should have been left buried. I’ll not call someone who needed my call or annoy someone who needed space. I won’t have learned enough, prayed enough, connected enough or grown enough. So how can I prepare for something as life changing, as life stretching, as demanding as Rosh HaShana?
I can’t. Sometimes, I am tempted to give up and stop planning – to go with the flow of my life. Life, however, like water, flows downwards. If I aim for nothing, then I’m likely to get it. So, I pull out my laptop, I start my blog and I begin preparing. What changes will I aim for this year? How will I deal with last year’s mess? What supplies do I need to become a better me, and if those supplies are emotional, then good – but where do I get them? I make my lists, I go back-to-school shopping, I plan out days of connection with loved ones. I do a goal setting session and I look up ways to make the goals happen. Then I shudder a bit and begin. I am not ready; I am not prepared. My planning is missing bits and things are about to go wrong. What else can I do, though? I might as well start anyways. Here goes Elul!
It’s Elul again. How does this happen? One day, it’s nowhere near the High Holidays, and the next day – here they come, and the beginning of the school year with them, and there’s so much left to do. So, of course, the day before Elul comes, I get challenged to come up with a way to bring a young person into Elul practice. How is this fair? I myself only started Elul practice two years ago, and now I have to think how to bring the ideas of Elul to a child? So, I ask Google. Oh, dear. Lots of stuff about “when little Tabitha wanted the candy, and saw the money just lying there, she…”. A bit about how we must all be nicer to one another, especially our parents. Quite a bit about colouring apples and honey. This sounds like exhausted parents trying to find a way to keep bored kids busy at High Holiday services, not a way to help someone young walk the Elul journey.
Well, I tried to write about walking the Elul journey, and then I realized I didn’t like it. So, I started over. Maybe I’m not seeing Elul as a journey at all this year. Maybe I’m tired of moving. Maybe I’ll see it as a time to clean up. Really, with our dream temples destroyed at Tisha B’Av, we have a lot of clean-up to do. There’s boxes to deal with. We just moved – trying to build a new temple, a new life. Elul is a time to unpack, to go through the clutter I’ve accumulated over the last year and say, “wow, what on earth was I thinking when I acquired that?” It’s hard. I never want to get rid of anything – but I know that the first step of welcoming something new is to let go of the old. So, I take that broken thingummy, I acknowledge the wail of, “but I used to use it and if we fix that corner, maybe it’ll be useful again some day,” and I throw it out. Spiritually, there are ideas and habits I can probably let go of much the same way.
Sometimes, I fix the broken stuff. Like furniture and appliances, relationships break, and I’m not all that good at fixing either. I don’t like apologising or forgiving any more than I like using hammers and screwdrivers, but this is the month in which I’m unpacking and cleaning up, and so I’d better do what it takes to repair what I can.
I look in corners. A big part of cleaning up is seeing what’s collected behind the fridge and under the stove and in that box labelled “odds and ends from the bedroom closet.” Although it is very disconcerting, I open the boxes. People have a way of not wanting to look at stuff – me in particular. I don’t want to see all the ways in which I’ve been less than perfect, in which I’ve missed the mark that I set myself. Still that box is not going to unpack itself! If I do the work, I might even find something I love or am proud of that has been hiding for way too long.
I get help. If I was unpacking and cleaning all by myself, I’d never be done, never mind in the month I have before the High Holidays. So, I talk to those I love, and I find ways we can work together to prepare for our future. Many people are a lot better at this cleaning up business. I definitely could use the assistance.
What else can I do to prepare for the New Year? Elul can be a time to plan. Sure, I’ve started to clear the ruined walls of my personal Tisha B’Av fallen temple, but what do I want to put in its place? Yes, I’ve moved away, and I may be unpacking the boxes, but where, exactly, am I trying to get to? Elul is a time to draw that map, to imagine that destination, to plan how I’m going to get there.
So, how can I bring a kid into my Elul? How do I help him see the job ahead? Is cleaning up going to be a good image for him, or does he need to imagine going on a trip, growing up, moving to a new city, learning new skills? Can I turn any of those into activities? I don’t know. (I love how easy that is to say – used to be hard, in my life. Now that’s a hard won skill I’m proud of.)
I think I’ll just let him know that Elul is a time to look inside, to see if there are ways we want to grow and change, to see how we connect to people and God and what we can do to improve that. Maybe I’ll talk about caterpillars and butterflies, and how that happens with people, and what one might think about when one is in a cocoon. I think I’ll encourage him to write and draw and find his way of getting through Elul. Maybe I’ll even talk about what Tabitha should do when she sees the money on the table, or let him colour some apples and honey. This year, we’ll explore Elul together and figure out how we can prepare for a truly exceptional year.