I feel like I’ve read (or written) that coverline on a magazine a million times. But it’s true, the dawning of a new year is a milestone that makes us, or at least me, consider what I was doing this time last year, and what, if anything, has changed over the past 12 months. The dawning of the new year in January always makes me feel hopeful, as if life is a blank slate. It’s also a dark, cold time of year (at least outside of Miami) but a time when the days are starting to get longer and the nights shorter, which always seems to me like a positive turn of events.
Still, my favorite time of the year, hands down, is fall. Growing up in Massachusetts I loved it when leaves changed colors, seeming to burst into flames right around my birthday each year. (Yes, I recognize that this statement is a clear indication of spotlight effect, thinking everything–even nature–revolves around me, but I didn’t really think the leaves changed BECAUSE of my birthday, I just appreciated the synchronicity.) About a month before the leaves changed, the air would get cooler and fill with an electric “back-to-school” feeling that still gets me excited, and apparently, I’m not alone; here in Miami it’s sundress-and-bikini hot well through the fall but store windows are full of capes and coats and corduroys and boots, clothes that make you want to grab a plaid blanket and meet your friends on the quad for an impromptu study session.
Still, over the past decade or so, I’d tend to get depressed around my birthday, because I often felt that a year had passed and my life was exactly the same: same apartment, same work situation, still toiling away on my novel, still running around the city. I loved my life on a day to day basis but it held less appeal when it seemed likely to stretch on the same indefinitely. And I never felt more stagnant than I did when seeing friends’ children after a few months; in a year a child could suddenly learn how to walk, acquire the ability to speak, apparently double in height, and in the same time it felt I’d done nothing but age.
But then suddenly things started to change, and fast. Between my 35th and 36th birthdays I got my MFA degree, got engaged and ended up getting married two days after my birthday (a male friend of mine pointed out most women would have gotten married two days before so as to appear a year younger in their wedding announcements, but I wanted to wed on 10.10.10, and maybe I was fated to do so, as an Indian astrologer predicted I would back in 2008, long before I met my husband).Since then, I’ve had a baby of my own. Amalía just turned a month old, and we celebrated with a ladybug cake and prosecco. She celebrated with prosecco-spiked breast milk. A good time was had by all.
In the last month, she has developed the ability to see farther than a few inches past her face; in the past week or so she discovered her reflection in the mirror, became fascinated by the TV set as her yia-yia watched Titanic (she fell asleep long before the iceberg) and noticed the icons on the wall. And I’ve realized something amazing about children: not only do they change so much in such a short time, but we adults get to experience these changes, and their discovery of the world, along with them. Which makes me feel that life isn’t lived just in the years of rapid action, but in the quiet moments, in ways you don’t realize until later when you look back and say, that was the year I made that friend, or forgave that enemy, or somehow saw the world in a new way, noticed my reflection and all the drama and beauty that surrounds me.
As a child, when my spotlight effect was even stronger, I looked forward to each birthday. We lived in Athens, Greece when I was between the ages of 3 and 7, and one October I looked at the American calendar on the wall and said, “Mommy, my birthday is the same day as Yom Kippur. Who’s he?”
She explained that Yom Kippur is not a he at all, but the Jewish day of atonement, when the faithful atone for their sins and forgive each other for their transgressions, and the Book of Life is written for the following year; in its pages are noted who will be born and who will die and, maybe even, according to the Indian astrologer, who will be married. This year, once again, Yom Kippur is October 7th-8th; I turn 37 (my mother’s lucky number!) on the 8th.
And tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which kicks off the 10 Days of Awe, the most spiritually reflective time of the year, a period that lasts right through Yom Kippur. During Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is blown to wake the faithful from spiritual slumber so that they can reflect on what passed and prepare for what is coming, pray, atone, seek forgiveness, and ready themselves for whatever will be written in the Book of Life. For me, it’s been non-stop awe since Amalía was born.
I once read somewhere that during Rosh Hashanah, the world of reality and the world of possibility are closer together than at any other time during the year, making it a good time to feel on gratitude for what you have been blessed with (or survived) and focus on what you’d like to see happen in the future. I don’t know if that’s true, since I’m not a Jew, just a cultural parasite who likes to celebrate any and all new beginnings. But given my childhood kinship with Mr. Yom Kippur, I like to think everybody can use a little awe, especially at this magical time of year.