by Seth Warren
I hope that all have managed to survive the transition from summer to busy fall, marked by the start of school, the Jewish holidays, and our own fall ritual, our annual CPPNJ Fall Brunch.
Thinking back, particularly to my undergraduate years, I can remember very well the sense of optimism and possibility that marked the beginning of the school year - brand new, un-cracked books, classes only just beginning, promises to myself for new accomplishments and goals. I can also remember how quickly that feeling of a "new beginning" faded as I settled into the routines of the year, as the new "normal" evolving with things in many ways returning to the familiar and known.
I can remember the sense of disappointment, that things very often didn't turn out the way I had fantasized, the class I anticipated maybe was not the same as the one experienced in reality, that the feeling of a wide-open future, of all possibilities, gave way to a particular path through the year, choices narrowing down inevitably with the passage of time. The experience of limitations, consequences of choices, things being other than as we wished - the opposite of the freedom we experience in the beginning of the new year. The Japanese, who have cultivated chrysanthemums for centuries, and celebrate the Festival of Chrysanthemums on the 9th day of the 9th month, cherish the moment of opening, the first moment of the new blossoming of the flower, with all the beauty of the full open flower yet to come. But each just-opening blossom eventually opens fully and then fades with the passage of time.
I see things differently now. While I understand the importance of the moment of opening, of hope of all possibilities, the beginning of a journey, I also understand that the journey in reality will be, and must be, different from the imagined journey in our minds. And though I still struggle with the transition from hopeful optimism of the year not-yet lived into the real lived experience of the actual time as it passes, I understand better now that it is the whole process that is necessary, the wheel continually turning, each moment bringing the next, each part of the process essential.
In the religious services surrounding Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the open gate is a central image. We are encouraged to open ourselves, to see the preciousness of life, of the coming year and all its gifts, and we are urged to let go of our regrets, our hopelessness, our bitterness and the hardening of ourselves that takes place - inevitably - in the passage of the year. To do this before the gate closes! We feel the urgency of the closing gate, with the setting of the sun, when the day ends and matters are settled for the year. Yes, of course, we know we will be back again the next year, again needing to let go of the same things, beginning another new year, like this one, another year filled with hope and possibilities.
I understand better now that the gate is always opening and closing, not just in the rhythm of the year. It is an internal rhythm, mirrored by the seasons and the cycles of time, but not bound by those external manifestations that so powerfully shape our sense of ourselves. Like our breath, there are tides of feeling that ebb and flow, as we come together and fall apart moment by moment. One gate closing as another opens. There is an open gate present in every moment. Possibilities disappear, and yet paradoxically each new moment has endless possibility. There is a place within our selves where things are always beginning. It feels right that we celebrate the moment of opening in the new beginning of the new year, but there is always opening, unfolding, away into a particular and yet also infinite future.