Yesterday, I saw an old friend who’s been displaced from her home due to a skunk. “I saw the gift,” she said, referring to the silver lining we sometimes can’t see when a sort of tragedy befalls us.
Like the power surge that hit our home in June, nearly setting it on fire and sending us to a hotel, the children scared under the covers, beside us in the night. Shaya still says, “I wish we’d never had a power surge.” And I remind him that, now we are safer because it happened. That turned out to be our gift.
Truly, we don’t often look for what may be wrong in our midst until it hits us square in the face. Would I have known the lightbulbs high up in each of my children’s closets were a fire hazard, if we hadn’t been forced to call an electrician? Would we know that appliances had shorted, sockets were burned, or how precariously we live each day, thankful to make it through?
But we did and we do and now, we feel safer.
This weekend, Jews around the world will be called to atone. Bedecked in white clothing and urged to forgo food and drink for a day and a night, we will be asked to look deep within and see what could be wrong so that we can fix it in the year to come.
It’s a great concept: set aside a day to reflect, to focus inward, to recommit oneself to doing better, improving, speaking less gossip, judging people less, being more generous, more open, more aware.
Except that in practice, such resolve rarely happens.
Here is the reality: Many get dressed up in their synagogue finest and endure hours-long services until it’s time to eat. Many women spend the afternoon scurrying about the kitchen, cooking and baking noodle kugels, blintz souffles, quiche, slicing tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion to go with the bagels and lox.
The day ends up being more about the bookends – the meal before and the break-fast after, the making it through, the how many more hours until I can put this to rest for another year, the yes I’ll try to do better now let’s eat.
But as with any seeming challenge, there is the gift lurking in the shadows.
The gift of rebirth. Of second chances. Of hope and new beginnings. Of a beautiful day with sun shining bright and 80 degrees in the air smelling like summer, a day on which to be thankful that we are alive and well.
The reminder that we are not perfect but still we are granted the gift of a new day, a new year, a secured seat in the community of life.
The notion that we are not alone in the world, that what we do matters, that someone is listening.
There is always a gift. Sometimes, we have to lift the red, yellow and orange leaves already fallen on the ground to find it.