We are in the midst of the Atseret Yemei Teshuvah, the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a time when we are meant to move forward toward and concomitantly return to our better selves. And in this new year of 5781, we are also in the midst of multiple crises for our health, our Republic, and our planet, and moving forward can feel like a slow, heavily encumbered, frequently painful slog through a very dark tunnel. I keep hearing from patients and friends that one of the most difficult aspects to bear of this grievous and enraging moment is not knowing when we will emerge from the tunnel of darkness in which we now find ourselves, and what kind of world we will encounter when we do.
I have felt my share of despair and anger, but I have not wavered in my belief there is light at the end of the tunnel. I believe we will do enough collective teshuvah that eventually, someday, we will live in a world with much more light: better health and healthcare, deeper compassion, broader justice, and a president who speaks and acts with a commitment to serving all the American people, to basic decency and kindness, to truth and integrity, to science and facts. I don’t know when the light of that day will come, though I pray for penetrating rays of light especially this coming November 3 and January 20.
This morning when I left a dear friend a voicemail but missed getting to have a conversation with him, I suddenly and in a new way recognized that he is one of the lights in my darkness, not at the undetectable end of the tunnel but accompanying me through it here and now. It occurred to me that our current tunnel, where the darkness often feels overpowering, is far from pitch black: It is studded with countless lights to guide us along the way.
Our connections with those we love, even if wrested out of social distancing and squeezed into a simple phone call or confined to flattened Zoom squares on a screen — these occasions of connection are our lights. Protest marches for Black Lives Matter, attended by tens of thousands of people who identify with a rainbow of different and often overlapping groups, the protesters carefully masked to keep the virus at bay – they are our lights. RBG’s legacy is our light, as are all who poured out of their homes spontaneously last weekend to publicly declare their intention to honor her memory by taking action.
The young people not yet even of voting age taking on risk to their own health to ensure that others are able to exercise their vote in this election — they are our lights. And the youth taking a seat at the table in the room where work toward healing our devastated planet happens, they, too, are our light.
We need not, indeed we must not, passively wait for the light at the end of the tunnel to finally appear while feeling resigned to sinking into a black abyss. There is abundant light all around us. We must absorb in our very souls that our darkness is made visible by the thousands of points of light, like a Yayoi Kusama art installation, that illuminate and reflect the infinite goodness toward which we tread. Our sages teach us in Pirkei Avot that we are not obligated to complete the work of perfecting the world—of leading humanity from this dark existence into a golden paradise—but nor are we free to desist from the effort of bringing our world closer to perfection with piercing lights of justice and mercy and love. We are obligated to do our part. Let’s look for and be grateful for all the lights in the tunnel, for they are there, and let us commit ourselves to becoming reflective beams lighting the way for others. G’mar chatimah tovah—may we be sealed for a sweeter year ahead.