Almost everyone has had the experience: some event draws you back to the school you attended as a child. Walking through the door, you are struck by how different things are while, at the same time, being the same. The place is smaller than you remembered; the children are younger than you were; they hired teachers far too young and inexperienced compared to the crones and geezers who instructed you.
There is a peculiar combination of familiar and alien pervading everything I do these days. After my six months of respite, climbing back into the pulpit and my office chair is welcoming and comfortable. Yet, something seems different. Though I would be hard pressed to tell you how, I have changed.
For some of you, this experience is familiar. You visit the synagogue with irregularity, and things seem to make a quantum shift each time. It is unsettling.
For others of you, earlier change has become so ensconced that a return to "the way things were" seems only vaguely familiar.
Summer is still in full swing and the High Holy Days are upon us nonetheless. We will return to a familiar place, though each of us will be different, changed by the swirl of experiences of the year past. Much will seem familiar. Much will seem alien.
Perhaps the reason for selichot is to orient us to this peculiar integration of now and then. Before the sanctuary fills and the majestic nusach (prayer melody) swells, we take a quiet look at those events which have changed us during the year – and acknowledge our part in the changes foisted upon others.
Things are different this year, though they are the same. Our calendar will not change, but, of necessity, the way we observe the calendar will shift as old friends have departed, absent friends have returned and new friends have arrived. Be mindful of the familiar and of the alien as well. And as the old Carly Simon song says, "Stay right here, ‘cause these are the good old days."