The Days of Awe 2014

Here we are again.

The days of awe are here, with Rosh Hashanah in full flight and Yom Kippur creeping up on me tonight, and still the message is yet written. And this year has an added weight as I have just read last years message again and have been surprised by its lucidity, breadth and quite frankly, length. Thanks to all those who got through last year’s verbosity and here’s to a New Year’s message shorter in word count but hopefully no less in relevance. [Also in fine Jewish tradition, this year’s message is in part a commentary on last year’s message!]

Reading the message of last year is a powerful one for me as I would echo much of its sentiments, although perhaps what is striking is the way in which it has presaged much of my feelings over the last year. Yes I am still fretting about my hairline, but I’m investing in hats and thinking about beards for my inevitably hairless future.

More importantly upon re-reading the comment on constantly feeling in flux it struck me that I was also either consciously or unconsciously invoking something I had read. This was a passage by Homi K. Bhabha quoted in Veit Erlmann’s article How Beautiful is Small? Music, Globalisation and the Aesthetics of the local (bear with me!)

To be unhomely, he writes, does not simply mean to be homeless. Unhomeliness is a condition in which the border between home and world becomes confused, in which the private and the public become part of each other. The home no longer remains the domain of domestic life, nor does the world simply become its counterpart.

The unhomely, Bhabha concludes, "is the shock of recognition of the world-in-the-home, the home-in-the-world."

[Also for those interested I can send this over, and I nearly just put this as a footnote in homage to one of my major David Foster Wallace based achievements this year until I realised that Facebook has yet to introduce footnotes]

Now ok, quoting this in this context is obscure, and perhaps needless but this idea has stuck with me a long time, a feeling like there is no homely place and the corresponding lack of clarity this creates in one’s life. In part, I feel it communicates the depth of the modern world’s incursion into the sacred, still and personal spaces of the self and of relationships, revealing the way in which the world’s relentless pace drains time away so fast that I find myself writing after another year in a heartbeat. This relentless velocity is deeply connected with the fractality of life, the splintering, the inability to keep hold of the shards, the precarity (whether financial, spiritual, emotional, etc), and vitally, the difficulty in centring oneself within the contexts of a rapidly moving web of social relationships. For me this seems key, and I have felt this powerfully this year (and this maybe be resonant for Londoners) that living in this space can feel like an endless blur, as bodies stream past dehumanised by their number.

No this is not another tangent. What I am trying to say (albeit long-windedly) is join me in trying to find Teshuvah, by listening.

While thinking about this message over the past week I felt often that this year has been a tiring one in part due to this endless outward pouring of words (ironically many as you can see from the above) and musical notes. I am aware, and those close to me are no doubt aware (apologies!), that mental health-wise this year has been very challenging and because of that I have been more extrovert even than usual, and more prone to talking endless about my own issues. So again, I enjoin you to listen with me. Try and stand still for an instant and really hear those around you, and in doing so be reminded of their humanity, and likewise awake empathy and find in yourselves, and in your relationship with them, a homeliness that is oft denied. I hope in the coming year to listen to you all, and in my greater silence hopefully come to a greater understanding of both you and myself. Whereas last year I spoke actively of actions reifying relationships and the importance of action in the process of making amends, this year I am less sure of the myself. I doubt I have the wisdom just to step in to solve a problem. So to really hammer this point home, I hope to be listening over this year, trying to really understand those around me, and in this understanding endeavour to be a better friend, a more righteous person, and hopefully a mensch.

To finish, I do not wish to speak of listening and silence without speaking of the great silence that comes before and after life. In the last couple of months I have lost, perhaps for the first time, someone I truly loved, my mother’s mother Irene. She was an inspiration, an artist and a cornerstone in the way I anchor myself to my identity. This event has shaken me somewhat and the timing of the event in particular, for it is on Yom Kippur that we become like that silence, still, neither eating or drinking, and in part this turn towards silence forces us to reconsider, who are we? Am I who I want to be? How can I continually turn and face the world when it fails to match my hopes and dreams? Or Kabbalistically how can we return the light of creation back to its source?

So in this brief silence on this most holy of days I hope that you find time to ponder, listen, consider and grow and secure further our little community within the loud voice of the world.

La Shana Tovah

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life