Days of Awe

According to Jewish tradition, the ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Years) and ending with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are commonly known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim). Those ten days are set aside for serious introspection. They are a time to consider our lives and deeds during the past year and to think about how to do better in the year to come.

If indeed we have another year to live…

In Jewish tradition, God sets aside the Days of Awe to make decisions about who will be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year, and who will not. At sundown this evening — at sundown on Yom Kippur, that is —  our fates are sealed. Not everyone reading this little blog entry will be around next year; perhaps the one writing it will be gone as well. Don’t worry. I’m fine, at the moment: happy, healthy, everything going well. But… shit happens. Car wrecks and cancer and stupid accidents happen. Life is a terminal disease. Nobody gets out of it alive.

That’s not pessimism, it’s realism, and that’s how you’re supposed to think between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Life is a decidedly finite proposition. Don’t waste it. Don’t take it for granted.

For me, the introspection of Days of Awe came early this year. A little over a month ago, my brother’s fiancee went missing and for the next nine days, her family waited to find out if Jeanne Valentino had been inscribed in the Book of Life. When her body was found, dread gave way to grief and now those who loved her have a great gaping hole in their lives where Jeanne used to be.

My brother has found one source of consolation in his awful loss: his last words to Jeanne before he left the house on the last morning of her life were “I love you.” He wanted me to pass this message on to all of you.

Say “I love you.” Say it often. Mean it. Just say it  for the hell of it, sometimes, like when you’re sitting around eating popcorn and watching TV. Don’t assume that the people you love know that you love them. Tell them. Above all, say “I love you” before every parting. Make it part of  saying goodbye: “Bye! I love you!” Say it as though each day is your last together,  just in case it is. You won’t be sorry.



39 thoughts on “Days of Awe”

  1. Spoken like a woman after my own heart. Sending love from Nashville. We think of you often and very fondly, Mary! I hope the Book of Life has many more pages yet to come for you and yours.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful and poignant message. When I was a kid (with Orthodox Jewish grandparents), the phrase “Days of Awe” was enough to send chills up my spine.

    I was so sad to read of the death of your brother’s fiancee. But what a lovely photo with that adorable child.

  3. You said it perfectly, Mary, and I commend your brother . Grief is often accompanied by guilt and regret, but your brother has the knowledge of shared memories of real love. I always tell my husband to be careful driving and that I love him when he leaves the house. We are not so young any more and realize that every day is a gift. After 50 years of marriage it’s still a comfort to hear those words.

    Thank you for reminding everyone of the importance of words.

  4. Mary.. very well said. My parents died in 2009 within 3 months of each other– I miss them every moment. My Rabbi reminded me that their memory is a Blessing and it is– they gave me a legacy of heart, mind and spirit that has stayed with me. I tell their stories–funny ones, sad ones, I share their wisdom with everyone. My favorite saying from my Mom was : “Can’t never did anything,” this encourages me every day. Dad was known for his humor and compassion — he used to tell me: ” Never be unkind to anyone–they have heartaches and struggles–you may never know about.” Dad was unable to walk and in a wheelchair for over 29 years and still he inspired everyone! Thank you Mary for this lovely well stated essay. May all who grieve know comfort, May all who love –Love All who need love and remember to say I Love you every single day! Beautiful! 🙂

  5. Thank you, Mary, and I do love you. Our book club will discuss “The Sparrow” next week, and I have made copies of “Days of Awe for them all.
    “The Sparrow”: my third time, others their second, some a first. It inspires me, challenges me, saddens me. I love every person in that book, also!!

  6. “He meant to tell her about his grandmother, who’d lived to be ninety-four and didn’t recommend it. He meant to tell her to watch that Supaari character, there was something about him, and Anne shouldn’t let herself get blinded by sentiment. He meant to tell her how really happy he’d been, even these last months. He thought he had a few days left. But death has its own agenda and its own logic, and it caught them both unaware, with less warning than they expected.”
    “The Sparrow”. Page 353.

  7. beautiful, mary. just beautiful. and heartfelt thoughts of comfort and love to you and your family, to your brother, to jeanne’s family. i’m so very sorry. it’s a poignant reminder to have gratitude for our time together on this planet, rather than to take it for granted.

  8. Mary, thanks for the reminder. My sister told her kids she wanted to see their faces before they left the house. Love you Mary.

  9. My father committed suicide very unexpectedly earlier this year. No signs of depression; we spoke the night before, joking and laughing during the conversation; nothing. Just got up the next morning and shot himself. He also left no note for his beloved wife which was very uncharacteristic of him. However, for years, I have always made it a point that the last words in any conversation with a person I care about is, “I love you.” I am also comforted by the fact that I know those were the last words he heard from me.

    Don’t wait to let people know how you feel or make them guess or assume. Tell them now. Tell them often. Make sure they know you mean it.

  10. You already know, but may I repeat; I love you and Don unreservedly. Your friendship is life-sustaining in difficult times and always uplifting! I also would have quoted page 353, but Ann already took care of it.

  11. I’m sure you mean for us to tell our loved ones we care (and I will), but now seems like a good time also to thank you for your writing. You got me to love reading again; you even got me curious about space travel and the Middle East and the Wild West, topics I wouldn’t have cared about otherwise. Your love – of people, of knowledge, of life – shines through every page. Shanah Tovah!

  12. how significant. . .these “little things” in life. . .between ourselves and others. . .we too often take for granted. . .thinking them to be insignificant

  13. ” “Bye! I love you!” Say it as though each day is your last together, just in case it is.”

    And lest it begin to be a meaningless habit, every now and then hold your loved one, look them straight in the eyes, and say it as if you REALLY mean it so they’ll know that you really do, that saying so isn’t just a meaningless ritual.

  14. I love you, and all your writings,
    a fan from New Zealand
    p.s. remember we discussed “Season of the Jew’ written by NZ writer Maurice Shadbolt.

  15. I did not know this about the Days of Awe. I rather like the idea, well, except for the fate sealing part. Your thoughts were timely, too, not because of any particular instance but I’ve been both reflecting and part of several discussions lately along “everything can change in an instant” lines. A brain operation for a 7 year old neighbor girl. A fall off a ladder of a dear friend and neighbor. All turning out well but all temporarily disruptive have brought that home.

  16. OH, I just realized this was a re-post. So I’m thinking this is a tradition for you? If so, it’s a good one.

  17. Everyone is loveable on some level aren’t they?
    Does “I love you” actually mean “I don’t love many but I love you.”

    Or “I love you, right now.”

  18. Mary,
    Thank you for this post, which I have read several times over the years. The reminder is always timely.

  19. Thank you for sharing this story, Mary, as you have shared so many stories about brave people. (I just finished The Women of Copper Country).
    Thank you also for sharing the story of your brother and Jeanne. My condolences. I hope the intervening years have brought comfort to your family.
    My daughter and her family make a habit of saying “I love you” at the end of every phone call, as well as at the end of visits. I started using that sign off, and now often find myself saying it to friends, too. No one ever objects!

  20. Our deep sympathy are with you. There are no words to discribe what you and your family are going through. Our family has followed your brother’s advice for many years. We have been surprised at how many families don’t.

  21. Dear Mary- We had a little email conversation years and years ago. Thank you for being so open and available to other humans! Thank you for your insight and compassion. I do love you so! And your love is so out there where we all can be touched by it. Grateful I am.

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