Last year this time I sat on the brink of something incredible. Sitting in shul at the beginning of a new year, I was facing marriage, college graduation and the start of a new job. Nothing in life is certain, but the upcoming year still held considerable promise, more so than any other in my life. Sitting on either side of me were my sister, my mother, and my grandmother; across the mechitza, my fiancé sat with my father and brother-in-law. I felt blessed.
This year, I face a slightly different sort of New Year. Nothing promises to change, at least not considerably. I’ll still be married, still have a job, and still be a college graduate (though now with the diploma to prove it). These are all good things, but instead of feeling as if the year holds ample potential, with exciting new changes, I feel the year stretching out ahead of me, a vast unknown with nothing to mark one month from the next.
Then I’m reminded: This is the way most of life is. There were years in my life where all that would change was the grade I was in. The classmates were the same, the teachers often ones I’d already had. Every few years there was the promise of an entirely new setting, like the year I started my program in Israel, or the year I started college. But for most of my life, sitting in shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the only things I expected to change were internal. I sat and meditated on how I would change in the upcoming year, what flaws I would work on and which ways I would improve my relationships with friends, with family and with God.
Last year I counted down the months to my wedding, to my graduation, to the beginning of my job. My glittering new ring would catch my eye and I would look across the room for a glimpse of the man who gave it to me. But perhaps all those things were also a distraction from the ways in which I could change myself, the ways I should improve on my own character.
A wise woman once told me that no matter where you go, you’ll always be with yourself. You can travel or start a new job or move to a new community; whatever your setting, you can’t escape yourself. This, after all, is what the Jewish New Year is all about — it leads directly into the Day of Judgment, because as much as the passing of each new year marks new beginnings in our day-to-day lives, it also marks another year of growth inside ourselves. Rosh Hashanah might say, “Celebrate! You have a new, blank year ahead of you, full of wonderful potential and endless opportunities!” But Yom Kippur is around the corner, waiting to say, “What will you do with that blank year? How will you be a better person than the year that just passed?”
This coming year may not herald any significant life changes for me, or at least none that I know of right now. But with it comes the opportunity to improve on myself, work on my relationship with Jeremy, with my family and with my friends, new and old. Those changes, in the end, may be more significant than a new job or graduation from college.
Simi Lichtman is a contributor to the Forward.
Finding Potential in an Anti-Climactic New Year