August 7, 2013

A Month of Introspection and Itching

That's what began this week in the Jewish calendar.

The month of Elul is the last month of the year. It slides right into the Jewish New Year and the entire holiday package known as the High Holy Days or the Days of Awe. Like the secular new year, Rosh Hashanah ("Head of the Year") involves both celebration and transformation.

Unlike the secular new year, Judaism gives you about 30 days to warm up. You get the entire month of Elul to look inward, to see who you have become and how far off your path you have wandered. Many rituals facilitate this introspective assessment. They increase in intensity as the holidays draw closer, spiraling you near and nearer to your Truths.

On Rosh Hashanah, you invite those truths, good and bad, to creep into your awareness. For 10 days, you look hard at them. Then, on Yom Kippur, you flood yourself with Your Self. You acknowledge it all, move nakedly to ask others to forgive you, move compassionately to forgive (especially yourself). And then, as the sun sets, you feel cleansed, renewed...and ready to start yet another year of marching off track. 

This year, Opening Day of the spiritual pre-season that is Elul coincided with the one-year anniversary of my total knee replacement. I have been wildly grateful for my return to long walks with the dogs, for the hiking adventures now on my calendar, and especially for the glorious absence of searing pain in my joints. This anniversary renewed my sense of physical power, which I then aimed at the weeds covering our front porch. For nearly three hours, I yanked and pulled till I turned into a sweaty mess. Hah, I sneer at sweat!  With the back of my hand, I just wiped it clean off my arms, off my brow, off the back of my neck. My new knee makes me Mighty. Invincible...

...but apparently not immune to poison ivy.

Its not like I didn't know it was there at the start. Himself saw it and refused to go out there unless I got him a biohazard suit from the Centers for Disease Control. Me?  I was just so enamored of my strength that I consciously decided not to change clothes. Even if the clothes were shorts, a tank top and...oy, I can hardly bear to type it...flip flops.

Yes, I sneer at toxic plant life!  And I continued to sneer for the next two days. Which is exactly how long it takes for those first bumps to appear. They quickly turn into vicious lesions that pop up on wrists then toes, on fingers then neck, like some dermatologic whac-a-mole. One week later and I am still on fire. I am even scratching my skin in my sleep.

You're probably wondering what all this has to do with Elul. Let's just say that a person who wears flip-flops into a poison ivy patch probably should start the process of transformation by reviewing the chapter on humility.