By Marge Piercy
White butterflies, with single black fingerpaint eyes on their wings
dart and settle, eddy and mate
over the green tangle of vines
in Labor Day morning steam.
The year grinds into ripeness and rot,
grapes darkening, pears yellowing,
the first Virginia creeper twining crimson,
the grasses, dry straw to burn.
The New Year rises,
beckoning across the umbrellas on the sand.
I begin to reconsider my life.
What is the yield of my impatience?
What is the fruit of my resolve?
I turn from frantic white dance
over the jungle of productivity
and slowly a niggun slides,
cold water down my throat.
I rest on a leaf spotted red.
Now is the time to let the mind search backwards
like the raven loosed to see what can feed us.
Now, the time to cast the mind forward
to chart an aerial map of the months.
The New Year is a great door that stands across the evening
and Yom Kippur is the second door.
Between them are song and silence,
stone and clay pot to be filled from within myself.
I will find there both ripeness and rot,
What I have done and undone,
What I must let go with the waning days
and what I must take in.
With the last tomatoes, we harvest the fruit of our lives.
# # #
Whether having actually been away or not, in September we return to lives much as they were before the summer. We may be, I think, surprised by changes that have gone on around us. And there are always changes, as we move from season to season and especially at this time as we glide into autumn and prepare for the High Holidays.
This poem by Marge Piercy reminds us that the process of teshuva, of repair and healing, takes place in our interaction with nature as well as humanity. The world is subject to shifting seasons and to the inexorable pull of entropy. You have only to look at this summer's storms and droughts and devastating wild fires to see how vulnerable the world can be. So at this time, as we consider what has gone on over the summer, we consider also what we expect to accomplish in the coming year, what healing is required, and what goals we may set for ourselves.
For the rabbis of the Talmud the idea of teshuva was miraculous and personal. In the Babylonian Talmud we find: "Rabbi Meir used to say, 'Great is teshuva, for on account of one person who sincerely resolves to change, the whole world is forgiven'" (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 86b).
But we know change doesn't take place only on an individual level. Piercy's poem points to the involvement of our lives with the entirety of the natural world. And our reliance on others is reflected in the words of the twentieth-century thinker Margaret Mead: "Never doubt the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Individual teshuva is necessary, but not sufficient. We need the assistance of other people. We need friends and family who will help us stay on goal and remind us of who we have resolved to be. We need community.
The question remaining is: What changes do you want to make in your life?