To Everything There is a Season

Reflections from a southern Jew on New Year's Eve

When I think about the past year of my life, I think about time. I think about how it stretched and elongated as I built a new life based entirely in the confines of my home. I think about how it stood still as I waited for news about the future. I think about how it went too quickly when I had a deadline, or when I had a moment to spend with friends on a Zoom call or on a socially distanced walk outside.

I think about baking bread, and how the process requires us to wait patiently during bulk fermentation for the yeast to work its magic. I think about running, and how we work to see how far we can move our bodies in a certain number of hours or minutes. I think about music, and the way great songs can slow or speed up or toy with our perceptions of time (I created a playlist on just this theme earlier in the year).

I think about how time is not promised, about how it can be a tremendous gift as well as a heavy burden. And I think about Judaism—about how those forty years wandering in the desert fundamentally shaped our faith and the way we see the world.

My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, writes, “I look upon time as no more than an idea.” She is right—time is invented and altered and manipulated, and we can choose to perceive it the way we need to in a given moment. What she means, I think, is that the time we have together on this planet is far too short, and that we need to look beyond time to understand the eternal vastness of our connections to each other.

Time is something that we can give to each other, to support each other in times of celebration or sorrow. Time is something that we can take, from others or for ourselves.

There’s a line that I think of as written by the Byrds (but that most people probably know is from Ecclesiastes): “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” There is time for all the things we want to do, and all the things we want to become. Time for things like being outside, cooking that recipe we’ve been meaning to try, or taking a spontaneous road trip. But as this year has painfully reminded us, there is never enough time: never enough time to spend with our loved ones, never enough time to do everything on our never-ending to-do lists, never enough time to see everything this remarkable world has to offer. This year, which has been a literal “time to refrain from embracing,” we have still found time to figuratively embrace each other through words of support, acts of solidarity, and mutual aid. This year, knowing that time is fleeting, I decided to make sure that everyone in my life knows exactly how I feel about them. The relief, wonder, and meaning in that act has sustained me through even the darkest moments.

I am not a believer in New Year’s resolutions. I don’t believe we can plan for the future (and I think that 2020 proved me right). All I believe is that we can put one foot in front of the other, make meaning out of meaninglessness, and do everything we can to make sure that we wake up tomorrow in a more just, equitable, and joyful world. January 1st is an arbitrary deadline.

Still, when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, I am tempted. I am tempted to say, “This year I will be better.” “This year I will change my behavior.” “This year I will do all those things I’ve been meaning to do.” I happen to think that this is pointless. I am proud of who I am. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished. I am proud of the work I do, the friends I hold dear, and the creative pursuits that give me meaning and comfort.

So as we look ahead to another year in which nothing is promised, I urge you to think about time. Take as much as you need, and think about extending it as a gift to others—in the end, it’s all we can offer each other.

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