This past weekend was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for practicing Jews. Basically, you dedicate 24 hours to self-deprivation (e.g., fasting, no sex, and no participating in luxuries – my iPhone missed me!) to not only atone, but also to reflect on oneself, one’s past year, and one’s future. This weekend turned out to be a particularly meaningful Yom Kippur, partly because of the community with which I spent the holiday and partly because of the questions our Rabbi posed to us during his sermons (yes, plural; Yom Kippur services are long, y’all) and the personal reflection that resulted from them. You don’t have to be Jewish or religious to find truth in the words he spoke. In fact, I would argue that it’s not a religious message at all; it’s a human one. It’s one that spoke to me in a very personal way, a message I needed to hear, one that I hope will help guide me in making a better year for myself.
- Were you honest?
- Did you leave a legacy?
- Did you devote time to study?
- Did you have hope in your heart?
- Did you get your priorities straight?
- Did you enjoy your life on earth?
- Were you the best you could be?
A small eye roll threatened to befall my face when I heard the second question, having made the assumption that this was all about having kids and that those of us who are childless have nothing to show for our lives. You know what they say when you assume… yeah. This isn’t about leaving behind a mini-you to carry on your genes or about gifting a novel to the world that will be read for generations to come; instead, this is about what you do to make the world a better place. I like the idea of keeping this question in the forefront of my mind as I journey through life. We as humans take a lot from the world; I think it’s important to consciously consider what we are giving back to it. This was a concept I struggled with when I left the teaching profession six years ago. While I was teaching, I could tell I was making a difference. I knew it without question. Until recently, I struggled with what my contribution to society was. What difference am I making by copying and pasting cells in a spreadsheet? I would ask myself. The problem is I’ve always tied my value to my vocation. After being laid off yet again this past May, I began volunteering at Temple, partly because I wanted to become more involved in the community and partly because I needed another reason to get out of bed in the morning. From editing the newsletter, to teaching Jewish American History on Sundays, to helping set up for events, I have found more joy in giving my time than in getting paid for it. Granted, it can’t put food on the table, but it does feed the soul.
In no way are these “guiding principles” earth shattering, but they’re the ideology that sometimes gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the everyday dance of life. I’m hoping to make myself more mindful of them this year as I strive to achieve a better me.