After dinner, the smoke cleared enough that I could take my dog to the river.
I sat on the crumbling wall of the bank while he splashed below, gulping water and looking for a log to roll and roll.
The sun was an organic egg yolk, crazy orange and while it made me sad that its wild, unnatural color was caused by the fires, it was something to see.
A kayaker came between me and the sun, and as he passed through, the orange globe stuck in his heart. Behind me on the grass, a family of three squeezed together on a blanket, water bottles toppled at their feet. The father bent to his phone, eye glasses raised to his forehead, a second set of unseeing eyes, the daughter wiggling a stick at a duck who waddled too close because it was injured and had lost his tribe. The mother in the middle, flexing her bare toes in the bath of sun. They were all three, even the duck, awash in orange. I thought of offering to take their picture, so they could see it too, behold this sudden, outrageous beauty, but I didn’t have my phone and I couldn’t risk getting too close or taking their germy phone in my hands.
This morning, the river is gone. I stand at the window and watch a goose float through the nothingness, until there is again a river in its wake, pleated into channels. Honking when the goose disappears again in the smoke.
I can see clearly as far as my neighbor’s yard. There, the maples are divided, split down the middle, half green and half rosy pinks on the way to rubies. The leaves arch back like palms in supplication. Weeping birch leaves dangle on the ground, the fallen leaves yellow gems planted in the grass. I double up on masks for the thirty steps outside to the garage, but my throat still burns. A friend tells me that every time I inhale the smoke, I should remember it contains the particles of people’s homes and businesses. The torched carcasses of their animals.
What a mess we have made and daily remake in our violence. The violence against Black men and women killed on our streets. The violence of indifference and inaction. The violence of political rhetoric exonerating us from changing a single thing about how we treat each other or trample and scorch and use up this planet.
It is the year 5781. The order of the Jewish calendar makes curious demands. Instead of asking that Jews atone before the start of Rosh Hashanah, the New Year is followed with a period of eight days of deep reflection culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In this way, we enter into the New Year with the full weight of our sins while the clock is ticking. During these holy days, we are asked to do teshuva, repentance. The word’s literal translation is “returning.” It is up to us to make things right, to realign ourselves, “return” our relationships to proper balance in chesed, loving kindness. To make amends with those we have wronged. To ask forgiveness and then forgive those who have hurt us, including ourselves. Only then, do we go before God to ask forgiveness and a chance to begin the New Year with a clean slate.
As Jews, we are also commanded to do Tikkun Olam, literally world repair. This ancient teaching begins with the assumption that the world is broken, and it is our job to fix it. How do we do this when COVID, fires, hurricanes and violence ravage our country? How do we “return” to proper realignment, restore peace and health in our communities, heal our cities, forests and wetlands, mountains and deserts, our nation, this planet? We begin small, as small as the forked weeping birch leaf in my neighbor’s yard. We begin at the mirror by scrutinizing our beliefs and behaviors. We begin by taking moral responsibility for our individual actions, our small and larger aggressions against one another, tending with loving kindness to our interactions with every human being. Only in this way do we begin to pursue the possibility of harmony in our relationships and communities, and in our nation. Only then, can we get to work healing a planet that is crying out Enough.
L’shanah tovah. Blessings for a sweet New Year of health and safety. May you be blessed to act and act now with loving kindness in healing each other and this planet.