Happy Arm-aversary friends and foes (I see you, Citibike riders).
When I was 18 at my seminary in Bet Shemesh Israel, a lovely Canadian classmate of mine, during the first month or so of school celebrated the 5 year-“birthday” of her belly-button ring. I think she even passed a card around for people to sign it.
“What a ridiculous thing to do,” I thought. “I must be her friend.” Which I did. But still thought it was odd to have a birthday for a piercing. But why not? We commemorate a lot of weird things during our year.
It is kind of strange that humans are mildly obsessed with remembering and celebrating specific dates. We have birthdays and anniversaries, Pearl Harbor day, Independence Day, Waffle Day and our own personal celebration days (I happen to celebrate July 13th – the day I got my license and January 23rd – a special friendaversary day) We love “Throwback Thursdays,” TimeHop and that thing Facebook does every New Years where it gives you an overview on all the posts you made that got the most likes. (Most) millennials partake in “instant nostalgia” (“Lemme see the photos from the 5k we ran 20 min ago!”) so celebrating a whole year or more seems like forever.
And no one does long-term Throwback Thursdays like Jews. That time our temple burned down 2,100 years ago? Let’s think about that every July. That time we dropped the mic and waltzed out of Egypt 3,100 years ago? Let’s reminisce about those days for TWO consecutive seders/parties in a row.
And especially Rosh Hashana – the world’s birthday. The anniversary of Adam and Eve 5,774 years ago – the ultimate #TBT.
As Judaism’s main agenda is about fixing/reparing the world (Tikun Olam), despite all the issues it gets sidetracked on, it’s helpful to look back over your year and think “Have I done anything worthwhile with my 365 days? Am I smarter? Harder better faster stronger? Or did I watch Netflix every night and Tweet mean things about people?” If you’re like me it’s probably a little from column A and B (although I seriously doubt I am any faster this year).
The cool thing about remembering something (and not just what you wore to brunch in those selfies from earlier this week) is comparing present You with past You. Looking at photos from middle school you can think “I was so much more comfortable in my skin back then,” or “I am much better at making friends today” or “Why did ANYONE let me out of the house with my hair like that?!”
We are meant to look at our past and ask, did we change ourselves? Did we change others and did we change the world? Because it starts with the first question. A better world starts with us looking back to ourselves just a year ago and track our growth (or failures, because progress isn’t just moving upwards it’s also learning from our mistakes or learning to forgive ourselves for our mistakes.)
Example: Two years ago I was in a really bad accident (did I mention that?) That day I was completely stressed out because of a rough class with major deadlines and more pressure I’ve ever felt for a class. I was also in a new relationship, was having roommate issues and trying to balance school work and Jewish holidays. As I crossed the street that Friday, my last thought (before the thought, “I could cross before that bike gets here!”) was “My life cannot get any more stressful.”
Cut to three days later when I had the same stresses plus a broken arm and battered face.
From then on, whenever I think “Ahhh this is the absolute worst – nothing can be as bad as ___enter situation here___” I remember “Oh wait, yes it can. I could be doing this *and* have a broken arm, I could be doing this *and* be attacked by raccoons, I could be doing this *and* have an unfortunate case of tick bites on my face’. Not that the main lesson here is never be stressed because hypothetical situations are always worse. Your pressures are totally valid bro I get that. The lesson here is learn from your experiences. Learn from others’ experience. Just never stop learning.
So make resolutions, break them, learn some new things, fail horribly, make friends, read books, cook new recipes, watch that documentary on Netflix, give to charity, cheer up someone’s day.
Two quotes that keep me motivated on marginal change throughout the year are:
“Someone once told me the definition of hell: The last day on Earth, the person you became meets the person you could have become” ~ Unknown
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’. – Erma Bombeck.
I hope they’re inspiring to you too.
And I pray next Rosh Hashana we can all look back and say, “Yeah, I think I repaired the world just a tiny little bit.”
Other Rosh Hashana posts: https://avivawoolf.com/2013/09/01/the-god-network-renews-you-for-another-season-a-rosh-hashanah-post/