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.

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43 thoughts on “Yom Kippur: Thoughts on the End of the World

  1. A belated happy birthday, and a great, big thank you. This post is especially rewarding, and moving, and touching. We all need these times of introspection, and self-evaluation, and, it is to be hoped, personal growth. I’m getting so much from your posts. They teach me, and entertain me, and reach me. This morning, after seeing an ad for a well-known cosmetic company’s latest miracle cream, I got so angry that I wrote a poem about it–and that was partly thanks to you. I’ve been reading your book, and it has had my mind fermenting away, and this morning, it just erupted! More on that later. Anyhow, I do thank you, my lady.

    • You are most welcome Susannah, and, in fact, thank you for buying the book and using it! That makes me so happy. I love when people get that it is not an instruction book to fill a journal, but a book to help you listen to your own creative energy. Yeah, personal growth is not always lovely and green. Sometimes it’s thorny and cranky.

  2. I look forward to each of your emails and posts.. I have not regretted signing up for your blogs and journals on creativity. It is good to know that you have substance from the heart not just for art, but for life and the meaning of it. That is what I admire and respect most.. and I truly was blessed by today’s email and your thoughts!

  3. Happy Birthday, Quinn! Every 19 years the date on the Jewish calendar coincides with the date on the Gregorian calendar, with some exceptions due to some quirks. Do you know what your Jewish birth date is?

  4. Happy Birthday Quinn. You certainly gave me something to think about. You are so right that we shouldn’t postpone our life – you gave me pause to examine what I am “saving” for those special times when life is just right – it won’t ever be will it? Maybe I should stop worrying and be fearless, take up my pen and camera and listen to that voice.
    Thanks for the kick in the you-know-what 🙂

    • Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah is the New Year, and the whole 10 days are Days of Awe. Literally, the Book of Life is closed on Yom Kippur–with the pages written and sealed, so you can certainly see that as a new beginning.

  5. Happy birthday, Quinn. And thank you for the blog about Yom Kippur. I read it early this morning, and wrote a response, the idea of atonement and reflection, the idea of each day given with no promises, and then expressing gratitude for that day – so full of meaning for living a life!

    It seems I am experiencing an opening of my heart and soul, more and more, and you have been one of my inspirations.

    LIFE is for LIVING!

  6. Happy Birthday, Quinn. I was very lucky that I had a job that I loved for 37 years, but also we did all the things we wanted to do besides so when my hubby died suddenly Sunday after he had a clean bill of health on Friday from the doctor, I did not have the sorrowful regrets so many people end up with when death/life takes over unexpectedly. I have always wondered why folks will stick with a job they hate to go to, for years! I have lived with only a jug of milk and a loaf of bread for a week’s food, and I can do it again , but not while I’m unhappy,
    Just this morning about an hour ago I got a call from my sister-in-law who lives 1500 miles away that she has cancer in her neck: she had breast cancer 8 years ago. She lives near the poverty level and is in her mid seventies. Its going to be a hard row to hoe. She has had many tragedies in her family and has always been the one to look toward the light. I pray that faith sustains her now.

    • I love the phrase “I have lived with only a jug of milk and a loaf of bread for a week’s food, and I can do it again, but not while I’m unhappy.” What a huge lesson that is! Life is a gift, and you know how fragile it is. I admire you deeply for that knowledge.

  7. Blessings to you dear friend (i hope that you don’t mind that i call you that – even though we have never met – i feel such a connection thru your writing!) – on this day of your birth and on this day of reflection. Just having completed a 72 hr shaman’s fire vigil – i can relate to a day of asking the type of questions you are today – i walked away from the vigil with some things about myself that i was unhappy about and am now working on making some changes in my life – mostly dealing with my interactions with others particularly in the office. I am thankful to love my life – even though there are days when i forgetthat fact. p

  8. I’m a lapsed Episcopalian to whom many Jewish traditions and rituals speak. I especially like the idea of atonement and taking measure of our lives. Thanks for sharing your perspective – always valued. Enjoy your birthday!

  9. Happy Birthday! There is a great movie called Last Holiday starring Queen Latiffa. It is a light-hearted look at this topic. In the movie, she has a Book of Possibilities and when she is told she has three weeks to live, she takes all the money she has saved and has a dream holiday. It is fun with a great message.

  10. I love this post. I have often wondered the meaning of Yom Kippur. You have explained it so well. Illness is often another reason people rethink their life. What a waste. Life is for living – but in the best way, do it and be grateful for the days you have. There isn’t time to do everything today, but each day is enough in itself. Go for it.

  11. I too am glad; glad u shared this post, Quinn. Thanks. Lately, I’ve been struggling with the daily rat race and I’ve yielding an inch at a time. I’m going to take the time, sign up for that art class today. Happy birthday, Q:)
    Sent from my BlackBerry® by Boost Mobile

  12. “Look at your life. Look at your work. Where they overlap is where happiness lives.” Quinn, thank you so much for that! It’s something I know but can easily – temporarily – forget, especially at this time of year when “work” starts in earnest. I am so blessed in having a BIG area of overlap, and I need to stop and savour the happiness.

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