Welcoming Elul

Welcoming Elul

Early-morning dogwalkers notice it first.

It gets light much later now that it did just a week or so ago. Dogs and their walkers who so recently were used to bright sunlight now are adjusting to the pale half-light of dawn. Pretty soon, they are forced to realize, they will be getting home in the navy-blue winter dark.

The summer is starting to end.

It’s still hideously hot, of course. We still walk out the door and into a thin but tough layer of sweat and grease. We’re still wearing the same summer clothes, only they’re getting a little bedraggled by now. Everything’s slow and getting slower; so many people are away that those of us left behind begin to feel abandoned. Nothing is happening. Nothing at all.

Nothing, that is, but change. Change is coming.

Children feel it as they buy their school supplies; they look forward to seeing their friends and wearing their new clothes and using their new stuff just as surely as they dread the regimentation and work that the fall always brings.

College students feel it as they prepare to leave home. Their parents feel it in the mixture of sadness and freedom that wells as they pack the campus-bound car. (Being able to shove every last bit of your child’s random found objects in and still close the door is a prime test of parenthood.)

Politicians feel it, as they gird for what already has become an ugly fight on every level and is bound to get worse.

Elul, the month when we prepare for the High Holy Days, begins on Shabbat. In Sephardi synagogues, this is the season of s’lichot, penitential prayers. Ashkenazim will hear the shofar’s cry every ordinary weekday between Sunday and N’ilah. For all of us, it is herald of an old year waning and a new one dawning, and of the self-evaluation that comes with it. It is the entry to those days of memory and loss and hope and love and turning and returning. It is a gradual but inexorable movement toward the deep emotions that we mask the rest of the year.

We live in two worlds, with two calendars and two concepts of time. How fortunate for us that both of these worlds, and even nature itself, recognize this turning.