Part 7 of “Wreckage, Wonder & Ways Through the Impossible: Writing About Life’s Hard Stuff”
For years, I associated the word “jubilee” with either country music or Christianity, which sometimes go hand in hand, but several years back, someone told showed me the Jew in jubilee. Jubilee comes from the Hebrew tradition of letting the fields lie fallow every seven years, not surprisingly coinciding with six days of work and one day of Sabbath. Also, in ancient Judaism, there was a tradition of giving everything away when a person turns 49 — 7 x 7 — and beginning anew.
As I crossed through 49 and got well into my 50s, I’ve realized how much jubilee vibrates in my life. It’s not just that impulse to get rid of all those boxes in the basement that contain objects of no real value anymore — even if I knew exactly what was in them — or haul off all those lid-less plastic containers and extra six pie pans. I’m shedding old ideas about who I thought I was, how I’m not really the kind of person who does this or that as much as I thought, and how some of the myths I’ve spun about identity and the world turned out to be scaffolding that got me to the point where I no longer need them. The more I can see my habitual ruts pre-conceived frames for who someone or what something is, the more I step into the brave, beautiful world as it is: What falls away, what I can witness, how I can serve, what it is to be at home in my body and spirit, and to understand how we are all our whole lives at once, like trees with a ring for each year.
Are you ready to give it all up, the news
that isn’t news, the sullen child calling the shots,
the scared grip of the fingers, the longing
of the spine? Are you ready to step out
into this new life, naked in the night rain?
Will you bring here the supposed treasures –
lost boys buried in cigar boxes, a glass bird
perched on the window box, the earnest wish
for someone to change her mind about you?
Jubilee is not all dance and fall.
Get up from that curb where you wait
for the parade of acceptance or the
nightmares of fear. Your life is not
made of the nameable.
The party has already started,
only a small flame that catches it all:
paper, rages, old shoes, miscarriages, empty
medicine bottles and torn blankets.
The fire that, once invited, consumes itself
and makes warmth for you, sitting there
in your new skin.
Now find or make another house.
Whatever comes, give away.
Don’t wait for answers from authority,
don’t push choices before their time.
Stand on the threshold, looking out,
imagining how one small bulb,
the size of dead newborn rabbit,
once in the ground, can winter itself
into the power of hyacinth.
Don’t settle for anything less.
One of my favorite things about Judaism is the concept of Tikkun Olam (Tikkun meaning repair or perfect, an olam meaning world), a phrase originating from a 16th-century kabbalist that sees divine light contained in special vessels — or Kelim — some of which shattered and scattered, attaching light to fragments of evil, which gave these fragments power. Our work then is two-fold: find the light through what some call “contemplative performance of religious actions,” and then return it to the light of the divine.
We stand on the threshold, looking out at the world: we see the wreckage, dreck and waste, and also the moon rising over wreckage, dreck and waste. Our Tikkun Olam is writing this, and in the process, freeing the light from the dark, gathering it into a poem, a song, a story, a play that helps repair the world one word at a time.