Elul arrived on my doorstep this year with unwelcome baggage.
The last month of the Jewish calendar, Elul is a time for reflection, for looking back on the past even as we look ahead to the coming new year. It’s the season of return. That’s the literal meaning of t’shuva, the seasonal theme usually translated as repentance.
As summer turned toward fall, as the earth turned away from the sun, as leaves turned brown and lifeless, I felt a deep sense of loss. That was four weeks ago. Now Elul itself is ending, turning toward Rosh Hashana and the month of Tishrei. And the sadness remains.
In the past four years I have lost so much: my father, my good health, my energy, my self-image as a competent, hard-working person who can be relied upon to do what needs doing.
This new year of 5777 starts out as another year of health problems, another year of not knowing exactly what is wrong or what will fix it. Another year of fatigue and muscle pain, anxiety and disrupted sleep. Another year of unpredictable ups and downs. Another year—the beginning of Year Five—of diminished capacity and diminished self-image. Another year of not feeling like myself.
But my self is more than a bundle of health problems. This season of introspection calls me to step back from my frustration and notice what has changed, what has gotten better, not just what remains challenging and discouraging.