Every year, in December, newspapers and magazines are filled with retrospectives, lists of events or musings on what took place during the previous year. We Jews tend to do this in September/October, the time of our new year and a period devoted to introspection and making one's peace with both people and what may be defined variously as God, one's higher power, or one's own conscience. Though I began this new year in a frenzy of childcare, which didn't leave a whole lot of time for introspection (or anything else!), I was struck by how intensely I felt the presence of a threshold between the new year and the one that was about to end.
Since I tend to pay attention when my emotions get that intense, I thought it might be helpful to do a retrospective on my own year as I step over the threshold into 5771.
This was the year I had H1N1 and pneumonia, spending 8 days in the hospital and six months recovering.
This was the year that Carol and I endowed the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, making several of my dreams come true: a permanent home for KlezKamp (the Yiddish folk arts program of which I am associate director) and my collection of Yiddish 78rpm recordings and a partner (the Mills Music Library) willing to make those recordings available online to anyone wanting to hear them.
This was the year I co-produced a 3-CD boxed set of recordings from my collection, to great critical acclaim and enormous personal satisfaction.
This was the year I discovered how badly my body has been beaten up by the life I've led, and also how to fix it.
This was the year I finally came to terms with the ravages of my childhood.
This was the year I got my mother back, in a small but extremely powerful way.
This was the year I got to introduce my sister and brother-in-law to most of my grandchildren.
This was the year I finally started to feel some peace around food.
This year was one of the hardest I've ever experienced, but also one of the most rewarding and meaningful.
In a way, stepping across into the coming year is similar to the journey one takes across the vast distance between the intensity of mourning and the return of "ordinary" life after sitting shiva, the week of mourning when a parent or other close relative dies. Jewish tradition wisely has friends accompany the mourner in a walk around the perimeter of the house on that last day of mourning, girding the day as a chassid girds his waist to separate the spiritual head and heart from the worldly loins. I remember when my father died, how disconcerted I was at the end of shiva, and how grateful and relieved I was to begin preparing for Passover, another intense, spiritual event, just a few days later.
Perhaps I need to go walk around my building.
Leshana tova -- a happy, sweet, healthy new year to all of you, and peace to everyone as we celebrate this birth day of the world.
A hui hou.