For as long as I can remember, I have found the Yamim Noraim challenging. It wasn’t just the long days of prayer and repentance that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur require; it was all the other surrounding stuff. It was the complicated family dynamics, my mother’s “iffy” cooking, and so on. After my father, z’l, passed away, the holidays felt incredibly sad to me. My father was the essential element that is now forever missing. I no longer feel his hands on my head, blessing me for a new year, and that absence has been crushing. Time, the supposed healer of all wounds, hasn’t healed that.
Then there’s the flip side of missing my father. And that is all that my father has missed. He hasn’t had the chance to treasure the magnificence of spirit and heart that is his grandchildren. He hasn’t seen how they’ve grown up to become so much like him, so full of his bone-deep decency and goodness. Even Noah, our autistic son, will say that he’s like Papa Jack because of his beard. (There’s also his underbite, his silly use of language, and his going through the world as a pure soul, no matter the craziness, or worse, around him.)
For all the loss and longing of the holiday season, there is also this: the chance to acknowledge and express gratitude. For me, that has come into sharper relief lately, as life has become more challenging, more fraught, more uncertain. While I have always tried to be mindful of expressing gratitude, circumstances lately have made that feel like an urgent imperative. And so here, on the eve of the holiest days of the Jewish year, I want to offer my version of a prayer. If it speaks to you, use it, pay it forward in your own way. And may this year, and the years that follow, offer you manifold opportunities to express gratitude, whether out of joy or struggle.
It’s not always the case that those who have suffered or struggled in life are able to express empathy toward others who suffer or struggle. But I have found, to my great consolation, that I have in my life a small sisterhood of friends whose journeys as women, as parents, as spouses have been at times incredibly fraught and painful. Our ability to share our hurts with one another, to support one another, to be the person who calls or gets called in a moment of crisis, is a gift we give to one another that is more precious than the tallest mountain of gold could ever be. #gratitude does not begin to capture what it means to have others in your life who hold your heart in their hands, who walk with you, even from a distance, who carve out time in their own busy lives to listen, to share, to let you know that your pain is theirs too in that moment, and that when your moment passes and they have their moment, that you will come full circle back to them. This is so much more than friendship. It’s deeper and higher and more profound. It is a gift that in my worst moments, I can lose sight of. But when I open my eyes and find that it’s there, the ground under me stops shaking, and I can breathe.
Nina Mogilnik’s professional career has encompassed work in the philanthropic, nonprofit and government sectors. Nina is also an avocational writer, and has had a number of essays about her experiences dealing with her father’s Alzheimer’s and her son’s autism published in Haddasah Magazine and in The Jewish Week. She was recently invited to blog for The Times of Israel and has been contributing her take on life and current events. Nina’s proudest accomplishment — and hardest job by far — has been as a mother. Nina has degrees in philosophy from Union College (B.A.) and from the University of Chicago (M.Phil). She lives with her husband and kids (human, feline and canine) in New York City. Read more from Nina Mogilnik here.
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