The Days of Awe are the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The idea is to stop, look around, and reflect. What do you want to let go of from last year? Who do you want to be in the New Year? I am not Jewish. Some of my former students call me Jew- “ish” because I like the traditions and ceremonies. As a teacher, it makes sense to me to celebrate the New Year in the fall. This year, I spend the Days of Awe outside, in nature as much as possible. I lie back in summer’s last green grasses. I watch the trees gain color and lose suppleness in their leaves. I notice that the wind smells of apples and wet soil, and that the ducks rise like mist from the pond to fly south.
I adopt the Jewish ritual called Tashlikh of dropping bread crumbs into a stream to cast away sins from last year. A young friend of mine calls this ceremony, “Kiss the Bad Thing Goodbye.” I take my lunch and sit under the giant willows by the creek. I throw the crusts of my toast in the current, kiss the bad things goodbye, and watch the swift water rush them away. I remember that what makes us human is that we are capable of making great mistakes, and yet we are also capable of great transformation. Maybe this tumor isn’t meant to set me back, but to help me transform.
I am fascinated by metamorphosis. Years ago, I wrote a children’s book, Eliza and the Dragonfly, about the process of a dragonfly nymph becoming a dragonfly. I wanted to show children the magic that exists all around them. But I also wrote it for myself, because I wanted to understand how metamorphosis happens. A dragonfly begins its life in water. When it is young, it breathes water instead of air. And it swims instead of flies. For years, it mucks about in a pond, being itself. Then it wakes up one morning with wings. It crawls out of the water, breathes air for the first time, stretches its wings in the sun, and flies away.
I wrote the children’s book because I kept wondering what I needed to do to transform into something great and become the grown-up that I wanted to be. It helped me to learn that dragonfly nymphs, like monarch caterpillars, don’t do anything to make their transformation happen. They just are. Every time I see a dragonfly, I remember to be myself. I am good enough. One day I will wake up with wings.
Here’s a poem I wrote in gratitude for this time of year and to celebrate how far I’ve come, how far we’ve all come.
The Days of Awe
These are the days of awe.
Lie back in summer’s last green grasses.
Each cricket’s song is slower now,
the wind smells of ripe apples,
the soil devours rain
and coughs up stones.
Mallards rise like mist off the pond
and fly south.
Trees gain color and restraint overnight,
act like old ladies who
snap their purses shut.
The sun isn’t traveling
East to West.
spinning — West to East,
setting to rising,
beginnings growing out of endings,
not the other way around.
Lie back in the wet grass.
Wait for the sky to grow dark.
Breathe in the moon
like a question
you’re not quite ready to ask.
Be like the river
Who moves toward the unknown,
who doesn’t turn around
and ask the mountain for directions.
Listen to the grace of insects,
then drop, swell, and release
like bread in cool, swirling waters.
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