As I stand on the dawn of a new year, I find myself drenched in the past.
This is the first Rosh HaShanah in five years I won’t be spending at Duke, and the first in two years I won’t be spending with someone I love. Perhaps for that reason, I am completely unable to get the smells, the textures, and the sounds of college out of my head. The smells, in particular, carry with them an unreasonable power to move me through time. I don’t merely remember, I feel I can actually smell the luscious scent of the Duke gardens, the coldness of the sanctuary’s tile floor, the succulent aroma of Henry’s cooking, the seductive hint of a young lady’s perfume. With those smells come back vibrant images and emotions that have twice moved me to tears. My psyche for the moment is unwillingly, relentlessly dragged backwards, out of the present and into memories that have until now lain dormant.
Rosh HaShanah and the Days of Awe have always been a time of intense introspection for me. Whether it’s merely the deluge of religious practices, or whether it’s something more primal in my heart, I find myself always asking, What am I doing? Why am I doing these things? What lies ahead of me, and how much of that will be left to my control? As part of answering these questions, I must look backwards. But looking backwards, and living in the past, are different, and I have slid far too much into the latter.
Therefore, this year, during the Days of Awe, I am going to turn myself forward. I am blessed with a loving family whom I can see easily and frequently. I have a very close batch of kind and intelligent friends who are extremely supportive. I have a stimulating and fun job working on things I love. These are things that I want to carry with me into the future. To the extent that I look backward, I will be doing so with the intention of learning how to maintain and grow these blessings.