For months and months, I've been saying the wrong prayer.
"Please," it began. "Just let this miserable year be over." The year refused. It wouldn't let go. It got worse and worse. As it did, it got longer still, and slower.
Then my cousin stepped in.
This is my close cousin, who speaks quietly in gusts of wisdom. We were recently on a plane together, under circumstances no one would have wished, when he taught me something I may need to remember and apply for the rest of my natural life.
My cousin mentioned a Kabbalistic teaching about the four letter name of the Lord. The name begins with the letter yud, which can be associated with constancy. The remaining letters, taken together, spell the word hoveh - the present. This very moment.
My cousin then spoke about the idea of God being a constant presence – literally, in the here and now. This is not the past, nor the future. This is the lesson for us as people. We're nothing but here.
As I thought about what he'd said, the year began to recede, to loosen its grip, to end. The prayer that I'd said so often, to no avail, began to take on the colors and the stirred hope of what tradition tells us to say as Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a new year: Tichleh Shanah V'kil'loteha - May this year finally end, and with it, all of its curses.
I hated the year just past. I hated the sense of having to be in three places at once and, as a result, not truly being in any of them.
I needed my cousin, and Rosh Hashanah, and some events I will not go into here, to be able to open my eyes and see the present moment at all.
I needed them to parole me from the maximum security prison known as the past. I needed a furlough from the open-ended chain gang we refer to as the future.
I needed to be able to say the rest of the traditional greeting: Tachel Shanah U'virko'teha. Let the New Year begin, with all of its blessings.
I needed to remember that, by tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of God's invention of people. It is therefore, also, the anniversary of the invention of human error, and of the possibility of apology, and of learning from mistakes. And, along with the invention of cynicism, pessimism, and despair, it is also the birthday of the possibility of a fresh start.
Rosh Hashanah is, in other words, the anniversary of the human idea of the present moment. That is perhaps the principal blessing that God gives every person – this very moment.
I have done much wrong this past year. The best I could do was not nearly good enough. A few days ago, a close friend who has inspired me by turning his own life around, asked me if I had any resolutions for this new year of 5774.
I do. And if, by putting them down here, I shame myself into sticking to them, more's the better.
I'll save you time. Most of them come down to this: To the best of my ability, all this year, I am going to be in only one place - the present.
I know what that means. It means turning everything inside me toward those I love, toward what I know is right and joyful and miraculous and beshert. Another moment, it may mean turning without delay toward exactly what I'm scared of, ashamed of, don't want to know, toward what I need to fix or try my best to. And yet another moment from now, it may mean standing up for those who need defending, or standing beside those who need comfort or support, or who simply need, at that very moment, someone to stand beside them.
On this, the Jewish festival of full disclosure, I have a confession to make. All these years of celebrating Rosh Hashanah, and until this past year came to an end, I didn't know the first thing about it:
The present moment is all we really have.
The present moment is our blessing from God.
The present moment also goes by another name: life itself.
Tichleh Shanah V'kil'loteha. Tachel Shanah U'virko'teha.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now