Life is neither linear nor is it stagnant. It is movement from mystery to mystery. Just as a year includes autumn and winter, life includes death, not as an opposite but as an integral part of the way life is made.
Rachel Naomi Remen-Kitchen Table Wisdom
Fall is almost upon us. While the official date for the fall equinox is September 22nd, for me it always occurs the Tuesday after Labor Day. That's when the shift from summer to fall becomes most evident. This year, for the second year in a row, we took off for a vacation on September 4th. Now that we don't have kids in the K-12 system, we have the luxury of heading out in September. While last year we headed to the coast (the banner picture on Grief & Gratitude was taken out there), this year we headed east to the Methow Valley. What a beautiful place, and what a perfect time of year to go. For those of you who don't live in Washington, the Methow is east of the Cascades, and in a totally different topographical zone. It's dryer, has more wide open spaces and the sky seems bigger. We love spending time there, and this year was no exception. Temperatures were in the mid to low 80's and we spent a lot of time hiking and exploring the region. I had every intention of writing an entire post about our week there. But now, it's a week and a half later, so I'll just leave you with a couple of pictures so you can soak up the atmosphere.
Heading back, I felt that something had shifted here in Western Washington and that summer was definitely over. There's that fall feeling in the air, where once again you see kids waiting along the side of the road for their buses, leaves begin to turn and (sadly) there's a lessening of light on each end of the day. And while fall has always been my favorite season, it is not without a healthy dose of paradox these days. For fall is the season when our son, Matthew died (October 22), when my dad died (November 6) and when my dear friend Toby died (September 18). So, for me, it's a season where I am confronted with all that life has to offer--which includes the end of life. I turn to fall now more fully aware that life is not forever and that we must embrace the preciousness that living offers us.
Fall is also the season of the Jewish high holidays. Monday was Rosh Hashanah-the Jewish New Year, and ten days later it will be Yom Kippur. These ten days are known as the "Days of Awe," a time of repentance, prayer and good deeds. It's a time where, according to Jewish tradition, it is determined who shall live and who shall die. This concept has always been difficult for me to swallow, and never more so than after Matthew died. Matthew got sick about a week after Yom Kippur in 2010, and three weeks later he died. It's very hard for me to look at this concept of the holiday with anything but skepticism. I have a hard time believing that God sits up there and determines who shall live and who shall die and decides that it's time for a 21-year-old to go (or a 12-year old, or a mother of three young children or anyone for whom it's considered a premature death). I just can't go there. Instead, what I am able to do is focus on what we CAN do to make the world a better place while we're here. I have to come at it with love and optimism, not fear and dread.
I choose to focus on the introspection that is a natural part of this time of year. Like others, I try to figure out how to become a better person for the year to come. On Rosh Hashanah we visualize the type of world we want to live in--a world that is focused on kindness, tzedakah (charity), justice, and most of all love. I see it as a chance to focus on how we want to be in the world-both for ourselves and for others. Resolutions are made, but they're different than the standard January 1st resolutions about losing weight, eating better etc. Rosh Hashanah presents us with the opportunity to remember what's really important in life with both a sense of gratitude and awe. It makes us ask the big questions such as how can I make the world a better place? How can I make a difference in someone else's life? How can I become a more perfect version of the unique person I am?
So as the days get shorter, I find myself turning inward. I find that despite the losses in my life, I am grateful for all I have. Perhaps it's because of these losses that I am so very grateful for my family, my friends and my community. I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and meaningful New Year! I hope that it's a year where we can both acknowledge our blessings and share them with others.