Bring It On, Elul

Today is the first day of Elul, the last month in the Jewish calendar. Traditionally we use this month to fix up things we’ve been doing wrong in the past year so that we can enter into the High Holidays with a clean slate.

Typically, for me, Elul is a time when I freak out about how quickly the year has gone by, and then, a few days before Rosh Hashanah, I start to panic about all the wrongs I need to right, and all the ways I want to change my life. By the time the holiday has begun and I’m eating apples and honey I’m already feeling dread about how unlikely it is that I’ll live up to my resolutions for myself.

But this year is different. I’m not sure in precisely what way, but I could tell even last week that this year I wouldn’t have the same Elul experience as usual. Maybe it’s because my mom’s second yahrzeit is a week away. Maybe it’s because my year has been so up and down. Maybe it’s because I spent the summer reading poetry, riding my bike, doing yoga, and making pie, and I somehow have ended up feeling like a better and more fun version of myself. Whatever it is, it caused me to wake up early this morning to attend a minyan in someone’s apartment.

I don’t know what happened exactly. Maybe it was because I was still waking up a little, or because I was falling back into the rhythm of a daily minyan, something I’ve been avoiding since I finished saying Kaddish. But sometime in the middle of Hallel I had what, I think, was a spiritual experience. A few seconds strung together, a feeling of lightness and wholeness, a flicker of awe, and then, very quickly, everything went back to normal again. After we had finished davening we blew the shofar, and I wondered if I would cry, which I sometimes do when hearing the shofar–it triggers something, I suppose–but I didn’t.

Elul is about putting together the things you’ve broken in the past year. It assumes that you’ve broken some things, and allows for time to reassemble yourself. I think in that moment I experienced just a hint of what it’s like to be put back together. Just enough to act as a carrot for the month to come. Just enough to remind me of all the work I have to do.


Things get broken
at home
like they were pushed
by an invisible, deliberate smasher.
It’s not my hands
or yours
It wasn’t the girls
with their hard fingernails
or the motion of the planet.
It wasn’t anything or anybody
It wasn’t the wind
It wasn’t the orange-colored noontime
Or night over the earth
It wasn’t even the nose or the elbow
Or the hips getting bigger
or the ankle
or the air.
The plate broke, the lamp fell
All the flower pots tumbled over
one by one. That pot
which overflowed with scarlet
in the middle of October,
it got tired from all the violets
and another empty one
rolled round and round and round
all through winter
until it was only the powder
of a flowerpot,
a broken memory, shining dust.
And that clock
whose sound
the voice of our lives,
the secret
thread of our weeks,
which released
one by one, so many hours
for honey and silence
for so many births and jobs,
that clock also
and its delicate blue guts
among the broken glass
its wide heart

Life goes on grinding up
glass, wearing out clothes
making fragments
breaking down
and what lasts through time
is like an island on a ship in the sea,
surrounded by dangerous fragility
by merciless waters and threats.

Let’s put all our treasures together
— the clocks, plates, cups cracked by the cold —
into a sack and carry them
to the sea
and let our possessions sink
into one alarming breaker
that sounds like a river.
May whatever breaks
be reconstructed by the sea
with the long labor of its tides.
So many useless things
which nobody broke
but which got broken anyway.

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