I used to anticipate my childhood birthday parties as if each were an annual coronation. Like most kids, I loved sitting at the head of the table with a crown on my head. In recent years, however, birthdays have been more like medical checkups--no fun at all but necessary if one intends to stay alive from year to year.
The Jewish day is delineated by a schedule of prayers; the Jewish year is freighted with time-bound obligations--six days to fast, eight days to eat unleavened bread on Passover, eight days to light candles on Hanukkah, seven weeks to "count the omer," enumerating the days between the Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt and the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Counting is a way of noticing and anticipating: it reminds us that a day counts or it doesn't. Counting imputes meaning; we rarely count what we do not value.
The High Holy Days of my childhood . . . embodied the very essence of new beginnings; for autumn, not spring, was when everything was new: my clothes, my classroom, books, pencil box, teachers--and Jewish chronology, which decreed a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to improve on the past.
The class reunion, known as a splendid opportunity to check out how we're doing in comparison to our age peers, is less often acknowledged for its temporal impact--for being a stark reminder of time's relativity. Returning for a reunion, we hear the same chorus of bedeviled reactions "Can you believe it's been a quarter of a century?" "Where has the time gone!" "It seems like yesterday!" The decades since graduation have raced by like a jet stream, sucking us along and depositing us in the present before we realized what was happening. But the four years when we were in school were as leisurely as a stroll; they ambled, they meandered, they distinguished themselves one from
the other . . . as if each were a separate country, and we a different person every year.