Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Days of Awe

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
Dawna Markova

For Jews everywhere, we are in the midst of the Days of Awe. The Days of Awe are the ten days between Rosh HaShana (the Jewish New Year)  and Yom Kippur where we focus on repentance, prayer and good deeds. It's a time of reflection and introspection. On Rosh HaShana, a prayer is read that essentially asks a lot of questions about who will live and who will die:

On Rosh Hashana it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed:
Who will live and who will die, who in their time, and who before their time?
Who by fire and who by water, who by earthquake and who by plague?
Who will be torn and who will be whole, who will wander and who will have peace?

At first glance, it can appear frightening and formidable. In fact, I wrote a bit about that last year in a blog post. I wrote how I had a hard time with these questions, especially because I lost a son to an illness that couldn't be stopped (and it happened a few weeks after Yom Kippur). It seemed so random and senseless, and I hated the thought that there was a God that was supposedly making this decree. I  didn't like the fear that this prayer conjured up in me, even though I knew it was a metaphor for something else.

I've continued to reflect on the meaning of this prayer and have come to believe that perhaps fear is the wrong emotion.  Instead, I think that there may be something quite beautiful about asking this question every year, and I'll tell you why. I think it is human nature to believe that we are in control over our lives. We think that we somehow can escape the inevitable, i.e, death, by keeping busy, acquiring more things, raising our status. We think we can keep death at bay by not really thinking about it. The Days of Awe ask us to reconsider this by reflecting on our lives in more meaningful ways. When the question is asked, "who shall live and who shall die?" the obvious answer is--all of us. None of us gets out of here alive. Yes, some of us will die early like Matthew, and others will live to ripe old ages. Some will die tragically and quickly, while others will have long, prolonged deaths. No one knows how or when it will happen, and because of that we should treasure each day. We should try and be the best people we can be because it could all end tomorrow. By remembering that this is, in fact, a condition of being human, we in turn remember just how transitory life is. That's the beauty of the Days of Awe. By asking us to reflect on what being human is all about,  we in turn can become better people in the coming year. 

I was walking with my husband this afternoon and trying to explain to him these thoughts. He listened and began to nod his head in agreement. He pointed out that it made sense to think along these lines because even the most righteous amongst will die  (some at a young age, and some older).  The amazing thing is how we can continue on to live meaningful lives - even after the most horrendous events. To me, this prayer we recite every year is a reminder of just how fragile life is and how we should try and be mindful of that as we live our days out.  It's not a bad thing to reflect on this once a year.

I hate it that Matthew died. There are times when I feel very bitter about how it happened and how unfair it is that he didn't get the chance to live a long life. But I also know that my eyes have been opened in my grief to the world of suffering out there. It has brought to the forefront just how important it is to live as if each day could be our last and to reach out to others in whatever ways we can. We don't have a choice in what life deals us , but we do have a choice in how we react . As Dawna Markova says, we can "live so that which came to me as seed goes to the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit."


  1. Such wisdom, Robin...Thank you.

    I will be holding you close to my heart in the weeks ahead.

    Love, Margaret

    1. Thanks Margaret. I will be carrying you with me in the coming weeks. So glad I get to see you in October...

  2. Robin, I love this - thank you for writing your thoughts about this special time in the Jewish year. It is illuminating to read how your view of the meanings of the prayers has been changed by Matthew's life and passing. Your process reminds me a bit of our marriage vows: we mean them fully at the time we make them, and yet, as years of marriage unfold, we learn how much more there is to those vows than we understood when we first gave them at the altar. Our love grows, and our capacity for love grows; so also our friendliness toward all of life - even the part that includes death - grows. xoxo

    1. That is so true, Karen. I love the marriage analogy! You have been such a teacher for me on this journey. Thank you.

  3. hey robin.
    maybe you've already read this book that i'm reading right now, but if not, it speaks to what you have so eloquently expressed in your essay. it's The Wisdom of Insecurity (by Alan Watts in 1951), and the title sort of says it all. Because we cannot know the future, and because the past is lost to us forever, we live in perpetual insecurity. And when we come to terms with that fact, we can view life differently. It becomes a gift to have an insecure future. It means that all we have is now.

    1. I don't know this book, Mary, but you can bet I will read it. And it's so true what you say that all we have is now. Looking forward to seeing you very soon :-).