Yet, here I am again, one of the only ones my age who still goes to shul, because from that day to this, nothing’s different
Birthdays, Yamim Tovim, and other annual events — they’re all milestones, markers. This time last year I think each time they come around. The scenes between then and now fade so I can see the two days in juxtaposition, like the spot-the-difference pictures my grandmother loved.
It’s Rosh Hashanah again and we’re back, in the big shul we don’t usually daven in, sitting in the front row seats our family always uses.
We’re late again — that’s the same.
“Excuse me...so sorry... thanks,” I say to the woman who extends a hand to help me pass. I grasp it entirely as a sign of appreciation, because I’m good on my own.
The path to our front row seat is one I know by heart, the greetings of “good Yom Tov” is a familiar rhythm, and maneuvering the spaces between people a well-practiced choreography. My sisters trace my steps, always right behind me.
White scratches peek through the red paint on the benches, stacks of yellowing seforim sit on the windowsill, there’s a tiny hole in the curtain just above our seats. That’s the same.
The gap below the tinted window is lower than last year’s, it must be, because I don’t remember bending to see through it. I crouch and peek through. My father is in his usual Tishrei spot, of course. His tallis is pulled over his head. My brother is in the seat next to him — he also has a tallis this year.
New daughters-in-law squeeze into the seats near us; grandkids perch on the back of their seats and share their potato chips; the row behind me has two more wigs. Smile, say mazal tov, compliment the new look.
I’ve seen some of them since last Rosh Hashanah, but comparing this year to that, this life to that one, it strikes me more now. We davened here when Hashem decided what this one’s new last name would be. We davened in this spot when He destined that that one come back draped in an elegant maternity outfit.
It was also here that He decreed I should do another year alone. It’s impossible for me to ignore that pain this time of year — maybe because it’s the first tefillah quivering on my lips, but also because in this part of the spot-the-difference game, things stayed the same.
So much hangs in the air these days. I want to close my eyes and ignore it, wait for time to pass so that the weight of each moment lessens. The place feels sacred, just as it does every year.
Lean in, I tell myself behind the hushed Tehillim and turning pages. A year passed and we’re back. When so much — colors, people, tefillos, sounds — is consistent, the few changing of stories feels stronger.
I look at myself through their eyes, the bubbies who think I’m younger than I am and the friends who now have babies keeping them home. With the two days lined up near each other — Rosh Hashanah of last year against today — my life looks the same. Spot the difference, and there aren’t many. I’m still here, still waiting, still davening with a broken heart.
I think of last year’s Yom Kippur, when I watched my sister’s baby during Ne’ilah. The infant started shrieking the instant my sister was too far away for me to call her back, and I rocked him in my arms as my head pounded. And all through it, between his tears and mine, I thought, I want this. Then I begged Hashem, Next year, let it be my own child keeping me back.
Yet, here I am again, one of the only ones my age who still goes to shul, because from that day to this, nothing’s different.
Then I think about the days between then and now, the ones that had faded out of view. Things are different, I remind myself. Those quiet year-round days are fuller, happier, changed.
No one can tell this from looking at me shuckel over a machzor, but I don’t have a job I hate anymore. They can’t know from the way I smile at my aunt in the row over, but I’m closer to my siblings now. They have no way to read this in the way my shoulders hunch, but I learn regularly these days.
Spot the differences and there are plenty — but only visible to the ones who truly care.
Still, as I turn to the first page and run my finger across the lines, I daven: May next year look different.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 710)
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