A holiday wish that can be more than just a greeting.
interpreted by Deborah
The Beloved is my guide and my life
so there is no one to fear.
The Beloved is my shelter
from every storm and danger
so nothing can frighten me.
When evildoers attack
with biting remarks
and sarcastic comments,
seeking to tear me down,
they will trip and fall.
Even if I am set upon
by a legion of devils,
I won’t lose my nerve;
I may be encircled by foes,
yet I will stay strong.
I ask only one thing of my God,
the goal I will always pursue:
to live a life of awareness
mindful of the countless glories,
and possessed of a thankful heart.
Hidden under the brightling wing
trouble will never find me;
nestled in downy softness,
secure on holy ground,
no predator can hurt me.
From the divine perspective
my enemies hold no power;
they are mere pests, not pestilences,
easily brushed aside
with the wave of a hand.
I arise with radiant courage
and look down upon
every trial, trouble,
and lurking temptation;
with God beside me
I will overcome them all.
In gratitude or longing,
whether chanting dirges
or singing hymns of thanksgiving,
in sunshine or in shadow,
I lift up my voice to You.
My heart will not be still,
it flutters with ceaseless longing,
to always and forever,
O Most-Glorious One,
be near to You.
Wednesday marks the beginning of the celebration of Rosh HaShanah, the “Jewish New Year.” The traditional greeting for this holiday is L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu: “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.” This may be understood as simply a Hebrew variation of “Happy New Year.” But, as is so often the case when we encounter the familiar in a different cloak, the expression gives me pause.
If I’ve thought about it at all, I would say that “Happy New Year” is a one-day-only sort of wish; lasting, perhaps, at its longest, for a week or two of the late-holiday season. L’Shanah Tovah encompasses the entire year and, in its form — “May it be so” — feels like a blessing, a prayer that the Holy One will bestow good things upon us in the weeks and months ahead.
And how hopeful for the new year to coincide with the late harvest: a time of bounty; the season of grains and grapes, of bread and wine. All good things. Let’s celebrate!
I’ve been needing that sense of hopeful optimism, that perspective of “many blessings.” My life is, thanks be to God, quite good; our family is healthy, we have a cupboard full of food, a secure roof over our heads, and a recently-replaced furnace to keep us warm over the winter. Yet my heart has been sorrowful often of late. I miss my mother. It would be her birthday on the 24th; her “new year” celebration.
The strange thing is, she’s been gone for twenty-six years.
Of course you never get over the death of a loved one. As I always say, you “get through it,” and you learn to live with a new reality in what can feel like an alien land. The important thing is to focus on the good that you experienced, not what you no longer have; otherwise their memory will become painful, rather than a source of joy. I know that, and I seek to practice what I preach.
And yet…. I miss my mom.
My mom looked for the best in everyone. She found something good in every person she met, and — somehow, almost like magic — people responded accordingly. Grouchy salesclerks would end up smiling after a two minute encounter; sniping committee members would find common ground; sullen repairmen would end up staying for a cup of coffee; neighbors told her their troubles, knowing they would get a sympathetic (and confidence-keeping) ear.
A life-long Methodist who believed in a loving and merciful God, and delighted in His creation, my mom didn’t preach her faith, she lived it. She encouraged the downhearted, taught grownups to read, adopted stray dogs, and was a friend to anyone in need. I don’t know how many casseroles and bags of groceries she brought to invalids, or how many miles she drove to visit the sick and take folks to doctors appointments. And never once did I hear her criticize or condemn a single soul.
At the end, two of the nurses stood next to her bed and wept alongside us.
I miss her.
I miss her notion of hopefulness, her example of kindness and courage and charity — in the face of all that happens.
My mom endured a long and painful illness, but never complained. Instead, she worried about how others were doing: she once told her doctor that she thought he was working too hard. (I, on the other hand, fuss something awful when I have a headache.)
I miss her absolute confidence in doing what is right and good. They say that the emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned; if my mom had lived while Rome was burning, she would have continued to do what she knew to be right. She would continue to be kind and compassionate, to help to those in need, to cheer the downhearted (and take some cookies to the fire department); whatever befell the world, no matter how badly people behaved, she would continue to look for the best in everyone — and, somehow, just like magic, they would respond accordingly, I’m sure of it.
There is a tradition within Judaism that there are always thirty-six holy people living whose goodness basically holds the world together. They are called “hidden saints,” because nobody knows who they are, not even they themselves. Therefore, all are encouraged to act as if he or she might be one of the Tzadikim Nistarim. It is said that if one of these thirty-six dies, another person arises to take that place; thus the world is preserved.
I’m not sure if that is a tremendously hopeful idea or deeply terrifying one: that there are only 36 people keeping things from a descent into chaos, or that it takes only 36 good people to bring about goodness throughout the world. In the spirit of the season and in honor of my mother, I will adopt the idea that goodness spreads forth across the earth like a healing balm — after all, that’s how things worked out with her.
Thank you all for listening to the story of my mom, and for the ways in which every one of you brings goodness to the world. May this Season bring to all the earth an abundant harvest of hope, that we may feast on joy and live in peace. L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu!
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
and Happy Birthday, Mom!
How do you help to hold the world together?