16 Elul 5770
It's important to watch the sun come up once in a while to remember that it's really us falling down. After all, as the physicists and philosophers long ago discovered, it's the Earth rotating on an axis around the Sun; it's not the other way around; or, in simple terms, it's not about us.
Though we stage it that way. Like rising early, making coffee, taking a chair to ocean's edge, for instance; settling in for the big show.
I went to the movies recently and besides wondering if I'd leave with bed bugs, I was disturbed to discover, upon taking my seat, the rather violent backward rock to the stadium seating it was suggested that I enjoy in order to take in the assault of advertising and service reminders to shut my cellphone so that others around me could enjoy the show. In this case the show was a rather poorly conceived Hollywood rendition of what a cranky old guy thinks about before he dies but by the time the first scene appeared on the screen I had already been so saturated with so much selling of things I didn't want and other movies I'd never see that I felt I must have been in the wrong place. I looked around the theater to see if others were as pushed back in their chairs as I was, propelled as it were, by the sheer force of utter vacuousness that I was subjected to. It was the Union Square Regal Something-or-Other and in the reverse propulsion, my mind alighted upon the three backward steps of the Amidah that one is asked to do in a choreographed act of humbling before the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be God. I mean, there's regal and there's Regal.
One of my three children really feels life's pain. She wears it well, having developed at an early age the poet's ability to grab hold of it and struggle, with great strength of character, to make sense of it all. When she was very young and started walking, she actually walked backward before she walked forward, a source of pure joy to us. It was so naturally funny. The appearance of concentration on her face, the rallying cry called out to all relevant body parts in order to employ a disciplined army of individual expression marching as one (albeit backward) being into the world. I like to think that she discovered a fundamental truth about life as she learned to walk, which is that perception and reality are two different things. Behind a serious face is much joy; above the din of laughter is great pain. And so forth.
Lights go down in a movie theater and then there are bursts of brilliance, images and sounds of human production fill the room. And we, backward leaning, take it in, marveling at our achievements. I find it ironic, when you really think about it, that in order to celebrate what we've done, we have to lean back. As if we need perspective on our making. But what of the idea that in our making is a distancing from a greater truth--that the more we think we master this or that we are actually further alienating ourselves from certain irreducible realities like falling forward into life and death, into rising suns and setting suns, rising moons and setting moons, waves and tides that mark time, blowing past as, as we move past them, into age and once in a while, if we're lucky, wisdom?
I took a chair out to the beach; tried to remain motionless with a cup of coffee in my hands; and took a spot on the edge of my seat, propelled forward by the sense of responsibility for a world gone mad of its own making. Much that's actually wrong with the world can be bought, after being advertised, of course, while we are being blown back in time, to a kind of idyll of devolution, before we could walk and talk, and we babbled and gurgled in senseless ignorance. Nothing is for sale here, I said to no one in particular; and as I looked north and south on the beach, could see others, leaning forward into the blinding, brilliant, rising sun.
Elul will end quickly now that the month is more than half-way over. Like that moment when the sun itself breaks the horizon and day truly dawns, time has shifted irrevocably toward a new year. Amidst the noise and the hatred of the other that lurks among us in our land, let this be a year of humbling, of only questions when we do not know, and the recognition that, though frightening and even painful, the fall forward is as unavoidable as it is preferable, to the insistence that our backward steps are progress.