We are right now near the finish line of the עשרת ימי תשובה – the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Each year, I look forward to the opportunity to pick a personal growth goal general enough to my work with students, teachers, parents, colleagues, community, etc. By doing this publicly, I hope, it will inspire others to think about how they wish to grow, and provide me with a little public accountability to keep me honest.
This past Rosh Hashanah presented me with the strangest and strongest sense memory – or, perhaps, palpable wave of nostalgia that I can ever remember. (Forgive this American for making a Thanksgiving reference, choose the memory that works for you.) I can smell, taste and even feel that sense of “coming home” that only comes from having left home first. For me, the strongest such memories come from returning home from university for Thanksgiving or Passover, or as I got older, coming home with a friend (girlfriend or otherwise) to spend a holiday at the home I grew up in with my parents. At some point, what was once routine – the same house with the same people – totally transforms. If I was to make a Jewish analogy, it takes something that was khol (weekday/mundane) into something kadosh (holy). And I had almost forgotten how that felt until my older daughter Eliana came home from Queens University for Rosh Hashanah…
Sure, she had only been gone for two weeks and, yes, she’s been away from home for much longer stretches before. And, yes, who knows what her future post-university holds. But the feeling of anticipation for her arrival and the giddiness of having her home transformed what a month earlier had been the same four people in the same house from the regular to the special – its fleeting nature made our time together feel like a holiday.
Isn’t all time fleeting? Don’t we all look back on our family journeys and wonder how it could be that we are at this stage when just a minute ago we were at that stage? Wasn’t she just born? Learned how to walk and talk? Start Kindergarten? Become a Bat Mitzvah? Graduate High School? How can she be that old when I’m not?
Each moment cannot be a holiday, of course, otherwise it would lose its meaning. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t or shouldn’t try to elevate the everyday miracles we take for granted into moments of liminality. And so when I think about teshuvah and seeking “forgiveness” during this time of year, I’m sorry that I have not taken the time or the energy to appreciate what is right in front of me – a wife to treasure, daughters to savor, friends to enjoy, a job which brings me deep fulfillment, and more. As someone who lost his father too young (as if there is any other way), I should already know better. But I’m human and, thus, prone to error.
Let this be the year that I spend ten less minutes returning emails and ten more minutes in classrooms with children. Let this be the year that I spend one less hour drowning in administrivia and one more hour building genuine relationship with a teacher. Let this be the year that I send more proactive expressions of gratitude to parents than reactive responses to inevitable issues. Let this be the year that I give myself permission to leave work while the sun still shines to take time to be with friends. Let this be the year that “work-life balance” moves from cliché to creed.
In the end, let me be sorry now for all the ways in which I have failed to appreciate the opportunity to transform the everyday into moments of meaning so that my sorrow later not become a regret too late to remedy.
Additionally, during this time of introspection, let me take this opportunity to ask forgiveness for anything I have done – purposely or unknowingly – to cause offense or upset during the last year. I am sincerely sorry and ask for your forgiveness. As you ponder the purpose of this season for you and your family, I hope you find the time for introspection and the inspiration for the teshuvah you are seeking. From my family to yours, wishing you a tzom kal (easy fast) and a day of meaning.
G’mar chatimah tovah.