Earth Etude for 27 Elul

The Known and the Unknown

by Rabbi Anne Heath

I celebrated my first Hanukkah amongst my siblings and their children celebrating yet another family Christmas. We had gathered for winter break in Santa Fe, NM, at our brother's home, glad to be together after travels of varying distances and difficulties.

My lengthy, made-it-in-one-day drive from St. Louis culminated in a wondrous night sky display. My younger daughter and I approached Santa Fe well after midnight. The cold, crisply clear night made for perfect night-sky viewing, too good to be just an out-of-the-window-on-our-way-somewhere experience.

I stopped the car. We got out, glad to be standing. We stretched our road-weary limbs, all the while looking up in awe. We both agreed that it almost felt as if the sky were falling because the sky was so full of constellations and planets. The area's elevation made everything seem just that much closer.

Upon awakening late the next morning, we discovered that the bright, clear sky of the night before had been replaced by low-hanging gray clouds and occasional fog. Disappointing? Yes, but not nearly as problematic as what I perceived as "wrong" with the area's trees, grass and dirt/soil. The pinion pines were short and stubby. There wasn't much grass – green or otherwise. The dirt/soil was sandy clay. Nothing like the tall trees in St. Louis, nor the prevalence of lawns and dark, rich soil there. Nothing like the wide variation in flora in St. Louis – even in winter.

The brilliant night skyscape seemed "just right" immediately. The "wrongness" of the Santa Fe landscape didn't turn into "maybe this is OK" until almost the end of our visit, eleven days later.

I wondered on the drive home if my feeling of no longer fitting in at family holiday celebrations might have colored my feeling of not feeling at home in the Santa Fe physical environment.

I continue to wonder why I can get so stuck in needing my environment to be one that is comfortable and familiar. The push and pull between the lure of the new and the ho-hum-ness of the everyday is a recurring theme in my life.

In the lead up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year it will be worthwhile for me to revisit the question of balance between the security of the known and the insecurity of the unknown, especially when the unknown represents new growth, renewal and health for my relationship with myself, with G-d and with others; and even more especially when a trek off into the unknown represents a running away from what's difficult in the midst of the known – something which needs healing.

If this is your experience, I pray that 5773 will be a year in which a clarity as brilliant as the cold winter night sky outside Santa Fe illuminates your path.

A member of both the Rhode Island and Massachusetts Boards of Rabbis, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath (Academy for Jewish Religion-NYC 2007) is beginning her tenth year of service as the spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Achim and the Jewish Community House – a 100-year-old progressive, independent congregation in the heart of Taunton, MA.

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