Season of Revision
Jay Michaelson

In preparing my article for this month's Zeek, I came up with several topics that were on my mind, only to remember that I'd written about them before. This happened so many times that I came to believe that what was most on my mind was not any new subject but rather the prospect of revising previous essays and ideas. And then I realized that the reflective mood of Rosh Hashanah was having its intended effect.

"What if we could do it over again?" the holiday seems to ask. What went right last year, what went wrong – could I avoid the heartbreaks, or would I take them in exchange for the ecstasies? Can I break the molds I've formed for myself, which now restrict myself – can I, like Sisera's mother, cry tears of transformation that echo the call of the shofar?

The truth of it is that this year, I've had trouble getting inspired by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In part, I think I'm finding their painstaking introspection to be at odds with a more Buddhist acceptance of all that is, and all that I am. I know there are ways to syncretize the two outlooks, and I can spin the texts that way if pressed. But when I read the medieval piyyutim in the liturgy, I see a lot of regret and remorse, a lot of longing and yearning. If we're honest with the texts, they're not about equanimity.

The larger part of my lack of connection to Rosh Hashanah is personal. When I was younger, and involved in varying degrees of self-hatred, it was easy to scold myself – not just for being gay (or ‘lapses in control') but, sublimated, for any not quite fully kosher sandwich or morning spent sleeping in instead of laying tefillin. Now? Well, I still wish I had a stronger will so I'd daven more and waste less time. I wish I were more compassionate and gentle, and less easily angered. And so on. But I've also tried to make peace with these shadows. I am committed to the possibility of change. But I've changed a lot in the last few years. The yamim noraim ask for discomfort. It's how you get to catharsis and rebirth: return to who you are, to the entity which watches and knows, and loves. I'm confident that I will generate some amount of this cathartic, traumatic energy in the waning hours of the Day of Death. But I feel like this may be the first year in which I'm more or less okay with who and where I am. And that makes tshuvah hard. It's hard to tease apart the right kind of self-examination from the wrong kind, and hard to allow regret.

And yet I did notice the imperative to revise. Three articles I'd written -- one about the world, one about my family, and one about myself – demanded that I revisit and revise them. So, in the spirit of the season, I did.

Update to Five Groups to be Angry at After September 11 (Dec. 2001)

At first I thought I was the only person in America who didn't want anything to do with 9/11 this year. Then, as I spoke with my friends, I realized that none of them did either. It might be that we're going through a sort of collective denial, that the pain is still too painful and so we just don't want to confront it. But few of my friends knew people who died, and at least on a conscious level, I don't notice a lot of pain when I do reflect on the day's events.

I feel revulsion. 9/11 has now become a media event, an icon; it has theme music, it is a "touchstone." It has its cast of characters and its plot. And its meaning has been hijacked by the Right.

I spent 9/11 this year in Florida, visiting my grandmother (more on that below). The local paper, the Tampa Tribune, ran a spread yesterday with the title "No One's Lives Unchanged," a feature which included a profile of a woman who learned to knit after 9/11 – her way of coping. Now, she says, she really wants to give Rudy Giuliani a memorial blanket.

I don't "hate" the trivializers, commoditizers, and politicizers of 9/11 in the same way that I hold Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Big Oil responsible – but they do make me ill. And of course there are many people for whom 9/11 isn't revolting or painful; it's just boring. Now that the immediacy of the wound is gone, this is just another news story that most Americans would rather flip past en route to Fear Factor.

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The images accompanying this essay are by Jose Campos, III, from the show Isolation and Contemplation, which will be on display at Hampshire College Gallery in Amherst, MA, in 2004.

October 2003

Carrying Light into Dark Times
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

With a Bible and a Gun:
The Prohetic Justice of Johnny Cash
Samuel Hayim Brody

Season of Revision
Jay Michaelson

Primal Scream Judaism
Temima Fruchter

More than This
Dan Friedman

Josh's Dinner
Josh Ring

Our 390 Back Pages

David Stromberg

Zeek in Print
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From previous issues:

9/11: Tony's Story
Dan Friedman
9/11 and its packaging

Jay Michaelson
Dick Cheney & the New Age

Five Groups to be Angry at After September 11
Jay Michaelson
Who was really responsible?