Earth Etude for Elul 14
For Gentle Change
by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner
The term ‘climate change’ can feel overly vague in part because of the ambiguity of the word ‘change.’ Change can come quickly or slowly. Change can feel welcome or catastrophic. Change can be the result of concerted, value-based effort—teshuvah—or carry the blunt force of surprise.
June of this year was the first time I breathed in the smoke of distant wildfires. I knew it was a mix of luck and privilege that had shielded me up til then. I knew the smoke was coming, but the lived experience was still a surprise and the change still an invitation I never wanted to receive.
Two months earlier, after I turned forty but before I breathed in the smoke from wildfires, springtime held the heartbreak of disasters that were still distant. From that place, I prayed that change come gently. I continue holding this prayer for myself, my dear ones and communities, and for you, as the seasons change once again.
Woman at Forty
[after Donald Justice]
Forty, and the ophthalmologist’s technician
suggests my vision is blurry.
No, I say, it’s just soft.
I don’t see anything
wrong with tree tips a little hard to make out,
spring creeping up the branches
pulling a prayer: may all changes
be as gentle as this one.
After days of hard night rains
the white and pink petals of the cherry
and the stinkpear are scattered,
some glued to the sidewalk,
some breathed by the wind.
Walking the dog, my right knee grumbles,
pokes my brain to predict our future:
fewer steps, maybe one day a replacement.
The dog jaunts pain-free, or at least without caring
to give it voice. We’re both scanning for
chicken bones, a game for her:
can she swallow before I open her jaw wide
enough to pull out death.
I focus on what’s in front of me:
a new flush of petals are hole-punched
paper. Same pink, same white,
same sidewalk though. There’s always kids
around here, bicycles and toys dropped and spinning,
running down to pet the dog. It’s a small choice
I make, to pause with time
for their hands, their questions, to pause
and look harder: poetry comes from looking
but so does heartbreak, and right now I can’t
see the difference.
Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner (she) is a climate change chaplain and founder of Exploring Apocalypse. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in New Haven.