A tapestry of butterflies
Ten years ago my life started to unravel. Not completely. I always had love and support—my wife, my children. But a corner of it frayed, and the loose strands couldn’t easily be fixed, and holes that couldn’t be patched appeared. When my younger brother Ray died, I lost more than a family member. I lost a best friend who couldn’t be replaced. I lost faith in the order of things. The youngest in the family isn’t supposed to go first. I lost visions of the future, which had always included him. Then came the recession on the heels of his loss, and our finances were reduced to rubble, and we had to do more than reimagine what was to come. We had to rebuild.
Fast forward to today. Our lives are not the same, but they’re very good. Two of our three children are grown and on their way to success. Our youngest—still home for another couple years—transforms before us from a child into a fine young man. Different house, a few different friends, different hobbies, patching the weft and weave that needed repair. You can still see where the threads don’t match, the lines and scars that mark the passage of time, but all in all I look back and say to myself, “Time enough. It’s done. Time to move on.”
Why do I write this now? Why am I so affected by a decade of distance, which is, truly, an arbitrary number created as much by gift card companies as it is by anything more real? For me, the answer lies in the confluence of events at this moment, and perhaps the central issue of Rosh Hashanah: rebirth, transformation, new beginnings.
There’s the election ahead, always emblematic of a departure and a new direction, and while it may seem out of place in this essay, it is a choice we must make this year between hope and hate. Even if it doesn’t lead to any great transformative changes in our lives (and for most of us it won’t), we will be making a statement about who we are as a nation and a people in our choice for president. How the world perceives us, and how we wish to be perceived, is inherent in our choice. Choose wisely. Choose well.
When we ask forgiveness from those we’ve wronged or hurt during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we’re not just taking responsibility for our actions. We’re placing a period after them, asking for a chance to start over, a take two or three or whatever it takes to move forward in a different light. And as we step into a new year, whether gingerly or forcefully, we leave something behind, something that held us back and weighed upon us, a part of us we need no longer carry. Walking away from that, we change, not only becoming lighter, but a bit more of who we want to be.
Isn’t it interesting that becoming lighter means both shedding weight and increasing in brightness? Isn’t it a miracle, however small, that we are constantly in a state of becoming?
My brother was born and died around the Jewish New Year. In and of itself, that is a remarkable coincidence. And when he died (and I’ve written about this before) a large, brilliant butterfly that only a few people saw flew around his casket and then rose and disappeared in the distance. Since that day, whenever I see butterflies I think of him, not because they’re beautiful, as he was, or because I think in some mystical reincarnated way he turned into one, but because of the symbolism attached. From caterpillar to chrysalis to wings. Is there anything that represents metamorphosis more than that?
How long does it take for a cocoon to become a butterfly? How many days or weeks or years does someone work on the tapestry of their life to fill the holes and knot the strings? As long as it takes.
May this New Year be one of rebirth for us all. And that’s the good word.