First Day of Autumn: A Time of Turning

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Today is the first day of autumn, or fall, as we usually say when we talk about this lovely season. And the weather was lovely on Saturday, so my husband took me to Laurel Hill Cemetery, a national historic landmark, that was founded in 1836 along the Schuylkill River close to where we live. A Victorian Cemetery, we found the place quite interesting with headstones so old we could barely read them. We walked between the landmarks and enjoyed the view of the river.

We were high above the river in the cemetery when I took this photo.

I took some photos for my website and decided to couple them with excerpts from the text we read last night at our small Jewish congregation. (The first photo is from leaves I gathered on my walk in the neighborhood.) As it happens, the Saturday before the Jewish New Year is a special service called Selichot, which means forgiveness or apology, and the excerpt uses the turning of the leaves as a metaphor of turning our lives around by practicing forgiveness and apologizing to those we have wronged. The New Year is thus an opportunity to renew ourselves through forgiveness.

(Excerpted from Gates of Repentance, 1978, p. 372 as a quote)

Now is the time for turning. The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red and orange.
The birds are beginning to turn and are heading once more toward the South.
The animals are beginning to turn to storing their food for winter.
For leaves, birds, and animals turning comes instinctively.

But for us turning does not come so easily. It takes an act of will for us to make a turn.
It means breaking with old habits.
It means admitting we have been wrong: and this is never easy.
It means losing face; it means starting all over again; and this is always painful.
It means saying: I am sorry.
It means recognizing that we have the ability to change.

These things are terribly hard to do.
But unless we turn, we will be trapped forever in yesterday’s ways.
…..turn from callousness to sensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness
to purpose, from envy to contentment, from carelessness to discipline,
from fear to faith.

This passage ends by asking us to turn toward each other, “for in isolation there is no life.”


(There were several burial plots in the cemetery with traditional American flags and also some with confederate flags.)


Personal Note: I found the above text very powerful. I use this idea of slichas and the New Year that starts on Wednesday night to examine my relationships with loved ones and acquaintances and make apologies where necessary, sometimes by mail or also in person. I find this process difficult but also helpful, because then I can move on with my life without feeling I have wronged anyone without apologizing. For me, this is a very meaningful part of the Jewish holidays and even more important than sending out cards wishing everyone a sweet, happy, healthy new year.