The High Holidays are a time of change. It's the end of an old year, and the start of a new one. The vows we made over the past year are erased. We have a chance to ask for forgiveness and start over again. I thought a lot, during my fast, about metaphors to do with newness, and with religion, and forgiveness and starting over and a lot of things. During my poetry class last year, a visiting poet told us that humans use metaphors the way that animals use burrowing through the undergrowth. We use metaphors to feel our way through confusion, to place in a tangible context what is inconceivable to us. To me, religion is a lot like a metaphor. We use it to try and get a feel for what we can't really understand in our logical minds.
While I spent the day fasting, I came up with a lot of metaphors. I came up with metaphors to help me understand my relationship with God, which is complicated. I thought about the poem I read recently for class, "Tintern Abbey," in which Wordsworth talks about a strange spirit in the woods. Here's an excerpt from it:
And I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man; A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things.
When I read that excerpt, a few days ago, I thought of my time in the woods outside my dorm last year. How sometimes when I walked through the woods I would feel "the joy of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused." As though the wind and the trees were speaking to me. When I had a bad day- and I had a lot of bad days last year- going into the woods would calm me down, and lift me up, and remind me that I was OK and that the world was beautiful. I thought about "Tintern Abbey" and those times in the woods in services today, and it made me think that there are a thousand different ways to be spiritual or to be religious, and they can be walking in the woods, or reading poetry, or giving charity, or not believing in God but believing in humanity and its ability for empathy and kindness.
There are also different ways to look at Yom Kippur. For me, this year, it was about washing away the past. It was an ending to bad things, a beginning to good new things, a middle for good old things. There have been a lot of bad things in my life over the past year: depression, anxiety, bad self-esteem, little to no social life, procrastination, overeating, bad physical health, etc. There were also good things: a wonderful new school, working with Ch1Con, finally finishing the second draft of The Wishmaker, etc. And there are good things I look forward to in the future: a lot more work on The Wishmaker, making new friends, starting activist work, getting back into reading, etc.
So I wanted to let go of the bad parts of my past. A while ago, I wrote a letter to some of the people that bullied me in middle school, whose treatment of me was still in my head years and years later. Along with some other poet friends, I burned the letter, and I hope I burned the effect they left on me as well. I want to do that with the other things still in my head- the need to apologize for my existence, the waves of sadness, the anxiety attacks, the fear. I want to wash them away. I thought of another poem that I had written, in tenth grade, about washing things away. It's called "Letters and Numbers," and here's an excerpt of it:
"And letters and numbers
From their dark and stirring symphonies
To walk down the rainy sidewalk
Wherein is reflected the bright white sky.
I stand and watch the rain
Against our nearly bare earth
It rains in December, you see, before
The world dies and is reborn.
Our earth is nearly bare, but now
The rain must clean it free of leaves
Before that blanket of snow heralds in the new birth.
Wash away my past, oh silver rain,
From my bare-branched trees and
My dirt-smeared roads.
Wash away my troubles and my sins and my leaves
Take the dark in my soul down the gutter with you
And leave me, waiting for snow, all new.
Letters and numbers must take different paths,
Take yours and leave my light-filled sidewalk to me.
A leaf detaches from a branch
And spirals down to the path of running rain."
I want to wash away the things that held me back this past year. Not just because they made my life worse, but because they took away my potential to be a better person. I could have given charity, participated in activist work, made friends, been kind to others. But I was trapped inside myself, and I was afraid. I asked forgiveness for being afraid this Yom Kippur. I hope that in the year to come, I can be brave again.
So, one last excerpt from a poem I wrote in junior year of high school, called "Dauntless."
I stand on the edge of a cliff,
gazing down at the brilliantly sparkling blue waters below,
and the glorious sky spread above,
with its golden-white star.
I’m scared to jump,
but I have to trust that I can fly.
Because I can.
I have to trust that I have wings
Because I do."
Thank you for reading. I'm sorry if any of you are really not into Jewish stuff or religious stuff, but that's what I felt like writing about today. I hope it was somewhat relatable/interesting/at least you got to read some cool poems anyway.