This season is supposed to be one of renewal. The transition from summer to fall brings a cooler breeze, a change of color and the promise of brand new page in the books of our lives. We buy new clothes for our kids, who walk into their classrooms with the excitement of being a grade older, with the opportunity to begin with a clean slate.
It sounds prospectively exciting, but I wonder why so many seem to feel so darn anxious about it…including my wife, my kids and me.
The hope and the renewal of the season only manifests in reality if I remain in every moment to feel the blessing of the painful adjustments.
My eldest has started middle school, and it seems a lot tougher to negotiate than I remember. He suddenly has to be at a new location every 36 minutes, with a different notebook, folder and instructions for each class. He has two different backpacks whose contents are to be changed twice a day at his locker, so neither gets too heavy. He is on “teams” with guidance counselors, websites, login codes, team leaders and electronic homework that can be accessed through a new set of emails and passwords. This, of course, is coupled with having to integrate with several hundred new kids – as well as older kids who, at this point, begin look and act more like young adults than older children.
My middle child seems to have a phenomenal teacher but wonders why, after making so many new friends last year, she knows no one in her current class. “Dad,” she says in dramatic agony, “I just will never make any friends. I hate school.”
Our youngest has finally left the womb of the Temple Nursery School for first grade. She refuses to let us hold her hand anymore. “I am a big girl,” she exclaims. “I don’t need your help anymore. I can find my own friends and my own way.” Healthily, she swims through each day and then, at home, fills the airwaves with whining each night; swimming above water in the new confines of school has to exact a price somewhere!
I’m just off of sabbatical, back to my pulpit, and the newness of being back in the heavy flow of life makes me feel a bit like my children. I, too, have a hard time finding the correct folders, passwords and email accounts. I, too, am getting used to being with new people (or those I haven’t seen in a while), and they with me.
My kids tell me each of these days feels long and unfamiliar. I feel the same.
My kids tell me that it’s still really hot out and the leaves haven’t yet taken on a pretty color. I agree.
My wife and I look at each other for answers. We tell the kids that, as the days progress, all of us will feel adjusted and better and renewed. I know from experience that my advice to them is true. It’s just, in the meanwhile, it all still feels scary and new. Growing older is painful…at all stages.
Growing older is beautiful…at all stages. Generally, the beauty comes from being present in the painful parts of growing. That’s what makes us all miss these days that we would rather dispense with as they are happening.
It feels counter-intuitive, but in the midst of their anxiety I hug my children even tighter. It’s the opposite of how I feel, but I try to embrace the whirlwind of the newness and realize there are only so many fall seasons to experience in our cycles of life. The hope and the renewal of the season only manifests in reality if I remain in every moment to feel the blessing of the painful adjustments. Paradoxically, the joy only seems to come when I’m open to all of the bumps.
In these first few days of school, all three of my kids have cried almost every day. I’ve felt like doing the same.
Renewal comes at a cost. The entrance fee is being present in the tears; in the change; in the adjustment and in the growth.
Happy fall. Happy renewal.
Matthew D. Gewirtz is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. He is the author of The Gift of Grief: Finding Peace, Transformation and Renewed Life after Great Sorrow? (Random House). A strong advocate of social justice, Matt Gewirtz is a founding executive committee member of the Newark Coalition for Hope and Peace, an interfaith organization of Jews, Christians and Muslims that is committed to ending gang violence in Newark. Matt Gewirtz strives to find joy and meaning in his daily life and is committed to helping do the same for others. His greatest joy comes from his wife, Lauren and their three beautiful children.