The Days of Awe

As a kid, I harvested milkweed from the driveway ditches, searching for monarch caterpillars under every leaf. They were plentiful; it was a quick hunt. Back in my room, I'd make a little mason jar milkweed forest up on my windowsill, refreshing the leaves as the stripey critter chomped his way through the haul.

I'd come home one day to a still jar and an incredible chrysalis the precise color of green mint meltaways, an impossible bright gold thread lining the final suture.

Over the next week or so, the chrysalis faded to translucent, then transparent. The distinctive orange and black monarch pattern took shape within, brighter and brighter.

Without warning, the jar held-- well, not a butterfly. A broken clear shell, and an ugly ungainly thing with monarch-colored stubs angling off its sluggish body.

It hauled itself up the chrysalis stem to the anchoring branch and sat: heaving, wrecked. Sometimes I would edge in a bit of sugar water and watch its long black proboscis unfurl and spiral back, again and again, breaking its fast with desperation.

Once the jar actually housed a recognizable butterfly, I set it free. The next year, I'd do it all again.

So, I have always known that change is hard. It's an uphill battle to escape our tranformative carapace. And once you're out, it's not time to kick up your heels (or wings, as the case may be). You've gotta recuperate. Because, holy crap, is change freaking exhausting.

And I know that. I learned it every year watching the monarchs. Yet I keep forgetting somehow, the way they say women forget the pain of labor.

Today is Yom Kippur. My sister, the shiksa, slid a stack of books on Judaism toward me when I arrived at her house this morning. Once your kid (or your niece) starts asking questions about her religion, you have to be prepared to answer them. And I know nothing about Judaism, although I'm learning in bits.

The first paragraph of the first book:
"Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the holiest days of the Jewish year. They are also the most difficult to understand because, unlike other holidays, they don't celebrate a season or an important historical event. Instead they celebrate something intensely personal and extraordinary: the human being's ability to grow and change." -- The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays by Malka Drucker 
Predictably, I was in tears.

"Me too," says my sister over my sniffles.

She tells me the days between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur are called The Days of Awe.

"What a great name," I say.

"Yeah, I'm trying to use it as much as possible in everyday conversation."

The Days of Awe are the time to reflect on the past year of your life. Think about mistakes you've made. Forgive yourself. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is for apologizing-- to those you've wronged, to G-d, maybe even to yourself.

You're unfolding a brand new year, after all. You deserve a clean slate. And you'll need to ditch the extra baggage before moving on to making all those changes you have planned, because change is a lot of work. You'll need every bit of energy you can spare.

Apologize. Atone. Awake. At first, you'll be weakened. Starving after your long fast within. Yet, you'll be in a new body, ready for a new lifecycle. After you catch your breath, you'll be ready. Leave the shattered remnants of chrysalis behind and dry your wings.

Take flight.



I had this dream a few nights ago that I was riding a bike, the kind with baskets on either side of the back wheel. In the baskets were some books and other things, and I was biking my way to a new life.

I was traveling light; all my stuff was in storage somewhere. Yet, as I cut across the BSU campus (clearly the most direct route from Nevada to Colorado), there were all my worldly belongings laid out across folding tables. Right in front of Tamarack Hall.

The guys running my end-of-an-era clearance sale were very friendly, although they had no idea who I was. As I browsed through my own belongings I asked a few questions about prices, which they answered with a smile in between assisting other customers. There were a few things I was tempted to purchase and bring along; I had plenty of room in the bike baskets still.

Then, I set down everything I was holding, got back on my bike and left. The bike wheels whizzed across the grass; the wind smelled like fresh green; my cheeks hurt from smiling so wide.

I woke up still smiling.