“I’ve gone through a lot, but I’ve also had some of the most amazing moments of my life. I just want to remind myself that I’m in a new chapter of my life. One where I really recognize my self worth and don’t settle for anything less than I deserve. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and am ready to see where the future takes me. Keep being the amazing, strong, smart, independent, caring person that you are, flaws, strengths, and all.”
For Rosh Hashanah, my family has a tradition of writing letters to ourselves with our aspirations and goals for how to be a better person in the new year. The above quote is the concluding paragraph of my letter from last Rosh, which my dad thoughtfully scanned and emailed me to read on my first Rosh away from home. The first years that this tradition began, I did not take the exercise too seriously. I would hand write a quick page listing some fun memories I had recently had, a few goals, and a pretty vague and bland closing sentence like “Have a great year!” or something to that effect. However, last year, I decided to step it up. Expecting to be in college a year from the time I wrote the letter, I knew that my future self would want a very detailed, thoughtful, emotional letter, recounting and fleshing out all of the important events of the previous Jewish year. And boy, am I glad that my September-2016 self did that. As I metaphorically opened the letter (in reality, an email) before heading off to my first Rosh Hashanah dinner in Israel, a huge smile was brought to my face as I devoured the 1.5 page list “HIGHLIGHTS” from my junior year of high school. “I literally just read through my entire calendar and wrote everything good down that happened. Haha,” the letter explained. Yes, I really did that. It may have taken a bit too much time to scroll through EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. of my iPhone calendar from September 2015 – September 2016 and list all of the fun things that happened. But as I sat in my bed in Raanana, Israel, over 7,000 miles away from home, I was beyond thrilled to relive and remember so many of these events – big and small – from my junior year.
I was shocked at how many of these memories I had forgotten, but this shock reminded me why it is that I write these letters in the first place: to remember, or לזכור in Hebrew. In Judaism, we are told constantly to remember. For example, in the 10 Commandments, we are not only told to keep Shabbat, but also to remember it (“Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.”) We even read a Parshah on Purim called Zachor, commanding us to remember the evil of Haman and the Amaleks who sought to destroy the Jewish people and to eradicate this kind of hatred in our world.
The majority of the things I chose to remember in my letter were positive memories. In Judaism, we too remember joyous and celebratory occasions, such as when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt or when the State of Israel was founded. It is no surprise that my letter included a multitude of positive memories. I smiled and laughed as I relived my favorite events of the year and replayed them in my head. Some were hard to forget – going to Tufts with Celina and falling in love with the school. Visiting HSI friends in Miami. Marin Academy Prom. Traveling with my family to the Galapagos and Alaska. Meeting my Diller Israeli sisters. Building a Sukkah at Marin Academy with the Jewish Student Organization. But other memories were small and forgotten, and I smiled upon being reminded of them. Having a sleepover with Mia and making cupcakes. Surprising Josh when he got home from camp. My 17th birthday Momofuku cake (my birthday didn’t even make the list; just the cake). Even seeing Finding Dory made the list.
But remembering is not always happy. Yizkor is also the name of the memorial prayer for the deceased in the Jewish religion. We remember our fallen Israeli soldiers on Yom HaZikaron, and we remember the mistakes we have made in the past year on Yom Kippur. Like how the act of remembrance can go from happy to sad in an instant, so too did my letter. One moment I was reading it, smiling and laughing. And the next, my smile vanished as my eyes welled up with tears. The last two items on my list were: “49) Lexapro. 50) Rest in peace, Sara. I love you forever.” For those who don’t know, I struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. It manifests itself in a number of ways – not being able to sleep because my mind and heart are racing, or having an anxiety attack and being paralyzed with fear and having to sit in my room until I can calm down. Junior year was a series of doctors appointments, tests, tears, talks with therapists and school counselors. It was brutal and took a huge toll on me in all regards. Finally, I started taking my first anxiety medication: Lexapro. Over 2 years and five medications later, I finally have found one that works for me, which is one of the most gratifying, exciting, and relieving memories of this past year (better put that on my list for this year!). But that’s beside the point. What matters is that I chose to remember that struggle on my Rosh list, amidst so many happy, fun memories I could’ve chosen instead. I chose to remember it because my struggle with anxiety and journey to finding the right medication was a huge part of my life junior year. Even if it was not positive, I would not have ended up where I am today without that difficult chapter of my life.
I ended my list by remembering our family friend, Sara, who passed away just a few weeks before I started senior year. She left behind three kids who I continued to babysit for, and would often cry when I noticed their family photos after the kids went to sleep. Like with the Lexapro, this memory did not conjure emotions of joy or pleasure, but rather heartache and pain. But I included it because it was a very important part of my life that year. Because it brought our family friend group closer together. Because I want to keep Sara’s memory alive. Because whether I like to admit it or not, I was grieving for many months afterward. “Write what you know,” I’ve always been told. And for a lot of my junior year, I knew struggle, I knew pain, I knew fear, and I knew sorrow, whether in trying to find the right anxiety medication or in dealing with the loss of someone I cared about. Not including these memories on my list would simply be dishonest.
After the 1.5 page list of events from the past year, I had fleshed out some of the most impactful events, including the Justin Bieber concert (of course), my trip to New York for my birthday, MA and JCHS proms, family trips to the Galapagos and Alaska, and my year in the Diller Teen Fellows program. I ended up with a 5 page letter, which I clarified I had typed instead of handwrote “because this year (2016) has been so busy and I want to remember everything.” Upon reading that line, I scoffed at the fact that I chose the word “busy” to describe the months leading up to my senior year, before I had to deal with college and gap year applications, resumes and cover letters, saying goodbye to friends leaving for college, packing for an entire year abroad. But I also smiled, because as I sit down to write this year’s Rosh Hashanah letter, I am in the exact same place right now as I was a year ago. When I sit in my college dorm before heading to Tufts Hillel next year, I want to be reminded of every sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste from the past 12 months – my senior year – which feels like an eternity ago. I want to be reminded of all of the things – big and small – that made my last year at home such a special one. And although so much has changed in the past year, there is no other sentence that would describe my intentions for this year’s Rosh letter more perfectly: This year has been so busy, and I want to remember everything. A perfect paradox. So much has happened that it is impossible to remember every single thing that happened, yet that is exactly what I yearn for. To remember everything as I head off on my gap year, to college, and beyond. Lizkor.
So this year, as I sit down to write my list of highlights from September 2016 – September 2017, I ask myself and everyone reading: What do I want to remember from the past year? And what do I not want to remember because it hurts, but know that I need to remember? And then, when I finally get to college and settle into my dorm room at Tufts, I will read this list, and remember all of the memories from the past 12 months – good and bad, happy and sad, heartwarming and heartbreaking – that make up who I am and the life I live.
Shanah tovah u’metukah l’kulam,