Yom Kippur: Thoughts on the End of the World

Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement. In Jewish mysticism, it’s the day our fate is sealed for the next year–The Book of Life is closed and your name is either written in it for a year or it’s not. It’s the day we think about our mortality, the day we think about the impact of our actions on others. Religious Jews spend the day in shul (temple), fasting and praying.

It’s Complicated. Ink on watercolor paper. © Quinn McDonald 2012

I’ve always had trouble finding the Creative Force in buildings, and I often spend much of the day in silence, thinking about what I need to do, what I want to do, what I have to do with the time I have left.

None of us came to stay. None of us know when we will die. It’s good to think about that—and think about it without fear, without regret.

One of the most commonly asked journal prompts is, “What would you do if you had one week (month, year) left to live? I’m always astonished that people would do something different than live their lives the way they are living them now.

I’ve never understood bucket lists. Why are we postponing enjoying life? Why are we waiting to make meaning with our whole life? What are we waiting for? A sign? A guarantee that we have X number of years, months or weeks left? That number exists already, it’s just that none of us know what it is.

Do the things that feed your heart and soul. Do them today. OK, so most of us work to have money to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table and maybe a few special things–but then many of us put off the vacation, or the visit, or the trapeze lessons, because we don’t have time. Well, they aren’t making any more time. If you want to accomplish your dream, stop waiting for your boss to give you permission. Stop being scared that if you take time off you’ll be fired or replaced. Fear is no way to live whatever life you have left.

Of course you shouldn’t quit your job and take a cruise around the world because you want to do that now. But you shouldn’t do your job grudgingly, wishing all the time you could be on that cruise, and resent your co-workers, family and pets because you are in an office and not on a cruise ship.

Look at your life. Look at your work. Where they overlap is where happiness lives. If you aren’t happy, something big is missing.

This year Yom Kippur falls on my birthday, as it has only two other times in my life. It’s fitting that I spend the day thinking about my life, how I live it, how I mend the parts I can, how I live my own happiness. Fear and regret have no meaning here. This is a day that is given to me with no promises. It is enough of a gift. And I am glad.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who watches the shadow of her life move across the round curve of the earth.