OyChicago blog

Repent, reflect, repeat

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09/22/2011

Blair Chavis photo 

It’s been a difficult and busy couple of months, with an intense work schedule and a death in the family after long-term illness. Without boring you or falling into shameless self-indulgence, I’m merely a bit tired.

I’m a “Type-A” girl and sometimes find myself off kilter when it comes to a work-life balance. As I type, I’m coming down with a cold, fall is upon us and I’m already in desperate need of a recalibration. Hopefully, I don’t sound like Alexander from the book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

As such, I’m particularly looking forward to the High Holidays this year. As a child with a limited attention span, I dreaded the seemingly endless hours spent in services, broken up by hallway breaks with my sisters and snatches of hard candy and gum from my mom’s purse.

As I’ve gotten older, the High Holidays have become a valuable opportunity in which I can sit still, and actually think about my life. The New Year reminds me of the chance to start fresh—whether it’s contemplating adjusting my daily schedule, or reconnecting with loved ones. In many ways, I think the Jewish New Year leaves room for reflection in ways New Year’s Day in January falls short. We have one life on this earth, and as we’re reminded with the Book of Life, we best be living it.

But the New Year isn’t just about self-improvement; it’s about making others’ lives a bit brighter through forgiveness, understanding and commitments to change—our promises during the Days of Awe. Sitting in services no longer feels like a marathon, but rather a time to sit in awe of life around me, of those sitting next to me, surrounding me, chanting with me.

I’m often reminded of a sermon my rabbi gave a few years back on Rosh Hashanah, recalling Jewish folklore, in which King Solomon is humbled by a phrase that could always be true in good times and bad: “This too shall pass,” or in Hebrew, Gam zeh ya'avor. There are supposedly many versions of this story, as is often true with folklore; I won’t retell the story for the sake of brevity. However, “This too shall pass” has been a phrase my mother has used with me throughout my life in times of difficulty. Similarly, her mother used the phrase with her. It wasn’t until I heard the sermon a few years ago, that I understood the duality of the saying—which made it resonate even more.

As the cliché goes, “Time heals all wounds.” However, I’ve also always been someone who’s keenly aware of when times are good—and to hold on while I can. Joy, like pain, is fleeting. I’d say many of us live our daily existences somewhere in the middle. It’s equally important, however, to remember the transient quality of pain and joy. Those moments are when we are most alive.  

When I went to Israel on Birthright I bought a silver ring with Hebrew letters carved in a shortened version of the phrase. I haven’t taken it off since. Still, sometimes I lose track of its meaning.

Every now and then, I have to remind myself: It’s time to breathe.

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