This has, without a doubt, been the weirdest, most Elul-ish Elul I've ever lived.
In other words, this has been the only time I have spent the solid month leading up to Rosh HaShanah/Yom Kippur actually praying fervently, reviewing my own mistakes, and bouncing ideas off G-d of ways I might be able to fix them. It's a pretty ironic thing considering that I went into Elul actually convinced that, for once, I had lived a year the right way.
Looking back on 5772, I cannot think of a single year (with the possible exception of the year I lived in Israel) where I grew and changed so drastically. I was living away from my family, in an apartment I was paying for myself. I was far more surrounded by people my age than by family members, and for once, there was no set dinner time or school meal plan to rely on. I was on my own, for real.
And I tried my darndest to make the most of it. I cooked meals, not only for myself but for the purpose of hosting others. I held Friday night dinners with an average of fourteen guests per hosting. I baked pies. Some of my best friends and I planned one heck of a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with 16-pound turkey and 20+ people in attendance.
I spent my weekends and evenings after work with friends, getting closer and closer to them until almost everyone admitted we were much more like family than mere like-minded jokers. We made plans together, future plans. We talked about being old and having our grandkids play side by side (or in some cases not be allowed near each other). And over the course of the year, I grew, and I changed.
I had always been open to religious/philosophical discussions, but this past year taught me how to have those discussions in depth. I became much more open-minded, while at the same time learning how secure I am in my beliefs. I learned to laugh at immature as well as intellectual humor. In other words: I know who I am much more than I ever did, and I'm much more secure with the way I live my life.
So I went into Elul thinking, I'm no better or worse than anyone else! I was certain and secure of three things: I had amazing friends, I had gotten into grad school, and I (for once) was as secure in my body image as a self-doubting female can be. I'd never felt better.
Elul arrived, and almost immediately, everything I had been so certain about seemed to fall apart. I had friends move away or drop off the radar. I began grad school, and became not at all sure I could compete with the people who cared so much about giving the most academic-sounding answer (which I maintain makes them sound more like inflated blowhards than scholars). And in response to my social stress and workload, I didn't have time to cook. I forgot meals entirely. I slept less. I broke out in hives.
The hives, especially got me thinking. As I gazed in the mirror and wondered how much longer it was going to look like I'd stepped into a bugs' nest, I started thinking about messages from G-d, something I hadn't really thought about in a very long time. I've never been sure how much I believe in individual Divine messages, but for some reason now I felt I was standing in judgment and isolation, having received a very weird form of modern-day Tzara'at.
Let me be clear here, I do not think I have Tzara'at, and I'm not claiming they were a message from G-d. I'm saying they got me thinking about my actions. Here I was, so certain one day and so utterly bogged down the next, and I began to wonder why I felt this way. I reflected on the past year, and looked ahead to the New Year, even though looking ahead has become increasingly difficult for me to do (constant work will do that to you). And I've been able, I think, to identify the things I did right, those I did wrong, for which I need to ask forgiveness, and my challenges for the upcoming year, the most scary of which is uncertainty itself.
And Rosh HaShanah begins tonight. The overwhelming gut feeling I got is like I've received a court summons, or been called to the principal's office. And I'm not even sure whether I'm the accuser or the accused. Because there's plenty of things I've done right, but plenty I've messed up on, too. Some of these are easy fixes, but others are, and here's that word again, uncertain.
I've sent out my apologies to the people I feel I've wronged. I've been assured of their forgiveness, and I've forgiven them too. Interestingly, I've even managed to patch up relations with the one or two people I've held grudges with for years. That's a nice feeling.
But now, it's just me and G-d. And like I said, this is the first time I'm going into the High Holidays, literally trembling. Mostly because of that principal's-office feeling I described, but also because I realize I still also have to get over the guilt myself.
So to all of you, especially those who sat through this thing, I wish a Shana Tovah, a wonderful and happy, productive, smile-filled new year, and bless us all to be able to leave our hang-ups and bang-ups behind, enjoy where we are, but not lose sight of the big picture, and the knowledge that after this year is over, there's another one lined up right behind it. May we merit to reach it in good health and clear conscience, and may this year be one of fulfillment, happiness and peace.