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The Roadwork of elul

07/27/2016 11:04:46 AM


This is a re-post from 2013

The Roadwork of Elul

There is something unsettling about where I live. It's not because I am living at ground zero for Atlanta's graffiti scene; which I mostly think is beautiful and gives my buried anarchist cause to cheer. I was more annoyed that the city remedied our gate without permission by painting over the metal very sloppily with a non-matching gray. Though it became a reminder that ownership is illusory and demonstrated that somehow other people feel some entitlement to my walls as does the government. That I find interestingly meddlesome and a bit unsettling. All I own is me.

But what is even more unsettling is that everything around my home is being torn up and unearthed. Alongside the consistent noise of the train-yard and the Marta trains there is a constant drilling, thudding, and shouts from construction workers. On most days from 8:30am-6pm they are excavating the roads. I have stopped to peer beneath the steel plates and have noticed how deep the workers are drilling. Seeing underneath the road unsettles me to the core. The layers of earth, the Georgia red clay showing its angry face, roots that are disconnected from their sources and the shadows that create the illusion that the chasms are endless communicate something visceral about life. It's not just the actual upheaval in my neighborhood that makes me uneasy. Change and upheaval are always under the surface and this is just an unavoidable reminder. I look away and retreat into the safety of my home.

I noticed there has been a shift. Not so long ago, my home was ground zero for upheaval. Living with someone where things were fundamentally not as they presented was terrifying as was my inability to see (or choose not to see) what was beneath the surface. Discovering that the deception was quite vast left me open and vulnerable like the earth around my house being opened even with the seemingly fortified crust of asphalt. Having to live with the severed roots and account for the layers, the things I was responsible for was difficult. Fortunately, what was once my excavation site is now my sanctuary. I’m grateful that being in my home is no longer accompanied by pain but physically getting there is now the challenge. Isn’t that the way?

And now Elul begins, time to peek beneath the covers, do a temperature check, clean the mirrors, kick the tires, take out the magnifying glass, the microscope, the binoculars and in whatever metaphoric methodology works for you, engage a conscientious and attentive examination of our lives, our situations, our attitudes, our relationships and our actions. Isaiah reminds us this is the time to clear the thoroughfares and remove the obstacles. I look around and there are still so many.

I try to squeeze a physical around this time as Elul means my birthday is around the corner and the physical is akin to the childhood fascination of measuring one's height on the wall. Since I'm haven't grown taller in years, it is my way of noting growth and/or the small steps towards the "next passage".

I hate physicals. They are anxiety provoking necessities, physically uncomfortable and sometimes they come with shameful news like a weight gain or worse, threats of serious conditions. They remind me that my body changes every year, and really, every day.

If a physical is an overall accounting of one's health, I believe there should be an equivalent for ones mindset and outlook. Along with the physical, I am suggesting that we also all have a "spiritual". That is what the month of Elul is all about. Or more precise, Elul is the getting in shape for the "spiritual" that will take place on the High Holy Days.

When I was younger, my preparation seemed simple. Say a few apologies,let go of a couple grudges and have a check-in with friends and family about the year and where our relationship stands. I think that I had some illusion that my life was fine, that I understood what love was, that I was relatively invulnerable and that I had it under control. Now I live with intentions giving myself permission to be
sloppy sometimes which in my world often means accepting my humanity. My preparation is about examining the gaps between my intentions and my deeds; I am like a surveyor of my spiritual landscape. At times I need to sit quietly and meditate for some compass that can help me find exactly where my intentions have led me. I ask, “Am I really on the fabled road to hell paved by my own intentions? And if so, does this mean that I need to do some deeper digging, some
excavating and reassembling foundation?”

I heard that in mere months my neighborhood will be looking fabulous. The beltline will have access over the main thoroughfare, there will be trolleys and a new market is opening, à la the Chelsea Market in NYC around the corner. Certainly some changes may take longer than others, but this renovation will pay off so I'm told. It's what I remind myself when I feel this uneasy.

It's what I also have to believe about the work of Elul. With enough contemplation, spiritual practices of teshuvah, setting of intentions and prayer that I move closer to the potential of who I can be. With excavation comes rebuilding and reshaping, it is painful and cleansing, grief-inducing and hope begetting. With each year, I work on becoming more open, more loving and the layers covering who I am are lessened. Today the sidewalk may be closed but it is in service of being open very soon and traveled more than ever. It may just be the path that takes me home.

Last Edited at 8/6/2013 

Sat, December 5 2020 19 Kislev 5781