Thursday, October 31, 2013

Songs of Love, Fields of Cotton

Cotton Harvest, by Kimberly Vardeman, via Wikimedia Commons

[First published in the October edition of the Hebrew Union Congregation Temple Topics (our monthly newsletter): seasonal images, a favorite poem, repairing the world with a little self-love.]

It is so unusual to find ourselves at the beginning of October and already the whole cycle of fall holidays behind us—not only Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but Sukkot and Simchat Torah as well. It’s all gone by so quickly, I can’t help the feeling that I’m still processing all the ideas and spiritual work of the season.

Or perhaps this is no different than any year—the High Holy Days are supposed to inspire us to carry these elevated patterns of thought and action into all the days and months that follow, as best we can. When “the gates close” on another Yom Kippur, we remember, in words found elsewhere in our liturgy: the gates of repentance are never closed. Not only may we continue the next morning in our quest to know ourselves better, to turn a better aspect of ourselves toward the world; we must. The next morning, and every morning after that.

Yet, so often, we fail. We forget. We grow complacent. That’s why we need Yom Kippur, the great Day of Atonement, though God and the universe stand open to our efforts at repentance and repair in every moment.

Perhaps after so many years of associating the onset of the holidays with the cotton harvest, the snowy white softness spilling over the edges of everything, lining the roads, collecting in corners of buildings, even insinuating its way indoors, stowing away on the soles of our shoes—we can’t help now but take note of our own souls, straying already from our Holy Days’ intentions, like so many scraps of cotton fiber caught on the breeze.

Perhaps we should collect a few scraps of cotton this year, keep them by us as a reminder, like the notes we are supposed to carry always in our two pockets: “I am but dust and ashes” at one hand, and “The world was created for my sake” on the other.

The cotton does this for us, like a song from the earth.

I offer you here another song, a poem, to carry you through the end of this year’s harvest and beyond:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

by Derek Walcott


The seeds of goodness you were born with are still there. Remove the hard shell you have allowed life’s hardships to deposit upon you. Search out what’s beneath. “Take down the love letters,” and read them again.

Keep at it.

Dig deep.

Find that lovely, true self; “peel your own image from the mirror” of your true soul, and hold it fast. It is you.

Fall in love with yourself again, as Mr. Walcott suggests. Now allow that love and compassion to overflow the banks of yourself, to embrace the entire world.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Kim, and thanks for reading. I'm going to try to do a better job of posting regularly here--even if I only share what I'm already writing! November's bulletin column will be next. :)