Earlier this week, I was sitting with a KT member making plans for her to begin home hospice and she remarked, "Dying is such a privilege." She went on to tell me about the ways that she feels so profoundly alive, so able to experience real connection with people. So much joy is possible when we let go of the pretense of our lives. As someone who has for most of my life feared death, I exhaled deeply and took refuge in her experience.
Among many things, this is the time of year when we allow ourselves to be more intimate with the truth of our impermanence. The High Holiday liturgy reflects the seasonal shifts, the bright fiery shedding of leaves. Every Elul, for several years now, my friend and colleague Rabbi Jordan Braunig has created a process by which you can journal your way through the month of Elul. I know at least some of you have subscribed over the years. Each one is poignant, some so much so, that I must share them with all of you. Earlier this week, he wrote:
"Yesterday...this poem by the recently-departed W.S. Merwin caught my attention and calmed my spirit.
For the Anniversary of My Death
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
There could be so much morbidity in considering this fact that each year we cycle past the date of our own death, but somehow the poet treats the subject with curiosity and reverence. 'Then I will no longer/Find myself in life as in a strange garment/Surprised at the earth'. What a notion, that the essence of life is being surprised by it.
A few months ago, Casey reported to me that she had seen one of our kids laughing to himself. When she asked him what was funny, he said, 'Oh, it's just that sometimes I can't remember if I'm alive or if I'm dead." It takes a very particular little six-year-old to giggle in the face of this thought, but sometimes we could all use the reminder. We are, in fact, alive. I want to invite you to consider how you will remind yourself during this trip through Elul and in the year beyond that this is life. How will you keep in mind, in the busyness of the days ahead, that you're alive?"
As we circle round the sun, unknowingly passing the anniversary of our own passing, may the sound of the shofar, and the discipline of our days, call us back to the truth of our aliveness and the joy that is possible.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.