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Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's


Please note: Each of my public radio essays was written and aired at different times between 1999 and now. None of them is posted in chronological order. Hopefully, the ideas and insights in each of them will transcend the times and places about which I’ve written. I hope you enjoy what I have to offer.

One blessing of being a light sleeper is waking up to watch the sun rise. I generally welcome the new day this way on early morning visits to the beach when I vacation with family during the summer. Yet, recently I have discovered among the many simple pleasures of the capital district an almost perfect spot for watching the sun and the moon jump back and forth over the horizon. A few miles from my home in Albany, at the corner of New Krumkill and Font Grove roads there is a small parking spot overlooking a field. It is an elevated point with an almost unobstructed view from which I am able to look down into Albany and see the towers of the university and the Empire State Plaza. I sit on the hood of my car in front of a dilapidated, authentic red barn whose paint is fading. I watch and listen as the world of sky, sun, moon, trees, and birds goes about its business, oblivious to me and the other humans who pass through the area.

On New Year’s Day, 2002, I woke up early. Anticipating sunrise at 7:25 AM, I dressed, kissed my wife goodbye, and quietly left the house without disturbing our sleeping children. Driving out to the intersection with the sun just at the edges of the sky I marveled at the different look and feel of our community when it sleeps and is enveloped in silence. That morning was cold but clear and windless, allowing me to ease out of the car and embrace the peace and stillness of New Year’s Day without great discomfort. Other than the voices of birds in musical conversation and the occasional bark of a dog, nothing else competed for my attention. Light broke on the eastern horizon in front of me, while high in the Western sky behind me the bright moon began to fade as if being pushed back into its hiding place by the sun eager to rule the day.

The tentative fingers of sunlight that wrapped themselves around the wisps of clouds in the distance quickly grew into floods of brilliant red, orange, and pink. On a telephone wire above me, three birds held me in rapt, almost childlike attention as they chirped a reverent welcome to the sun that was by now well above the horizon and almost impossible to look at directly. Pulling a pocket Bible from my knapsack, I read aloud some verses from psalm 19: “The sun bursts forth like a bridegroom from his marriage chamber//Like a champion exultant and eager to run his course.” There we all stood in gentle praise on January 1, - the sun, the moon, the cold air and I, bound together with each other, the birds, the barking dog, the trees, and everything else: witnesses to the unity of all life, the painting on God’s canvas.

The night before, my family ended 2001 at the first night celebration in downtown Albany. Then too the sky was lit up, only this time by fireworks that, this past year, were part of our ongoing response as Americans to the tragedy of September 11. As the year closed in an explosion of sound and color with “God Bless America” blaring from a loudspeaker at City Hall, I was moved by our attempt to deal with our collective grief through this slightly superficial display of patriotism. That next morning I was alone in the middle of a world no different than the day before, yet so full of hope for what could happen on the day after. On the heels of a tumultuous year of death and suffering, I stood at that intersection and wrapped myself in the rhythms of nature and of life that continue despite their unpredictability. The author, Rachel Remen, once wrote that life may be terribly uncertain, but it is not fragile. Even in the deep winter freeze it persists, as surely as the sun chases the moon away in their race through the morning sky.

Dan Ornstein is rabbi of Congregation Ohav Shalom, and a writer living in Albany.
© 2010 By Rabbi Dan Ornstein.

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