Anticipating what's next
Unexpected Joy (a sermon for Kol Nidre)

A quick dip before the holiday comes

The drive is glorious: up into Vermont, first on what passes around here for a major road, then onto a dirt road, then onto an even tinier dirt road. The views of furrowed mountains, green turning to red and orange and gold, are breathtaking. Last night there was a frost. The new season is coming.

We pull off the final dirt road at the only house on the road. A woman -- our hostess -- is working in her garden; she greets us merrily and points us toward their "swimming hole," which turns out to be a rushing stream pouring out of an opening in the rock face of the hill. It pools into a little pond, then races down the hill toward wherever its path goes.

We pick our way delicately along the side of the stream until we find the right place to enter. We lay down our towels, face one another, and I offer an impromptu prayer thanking God for this beautiful day, for our companionship on this path, for this amazing natural mikveh. I pray aloud that our immersion offer us the cleansing we need in order to enter this solemn day of connection with our hearts open and ready to receive.

And then we pile our clothing on the riverbank and, shivering, step into the stream. Oh, it is cold! As I move further into the stream, my feet are rapidly becoming too cold for comfort. The thought flits through my mind -- as it does every time I'm blessed to do mikveh outdoors before Yom Kippur -- that my grandfather, of blessed memory, might have mixed feelings about my participation in this ritual outdoors at this time of year!

I take three halting steps, decide that the water here is deep enough, take a deep breath, and plunge into a prone position, all of me beneath the water. When I emerge I whoop. I make my way to the mossy riverbank -- and now the outside air which felt chill, before, feels surprisingly warm and comfortable in comparison with the very cold water in which I just immersed.

The autumn sunshine is glorious. My hair is wet. I have socks to warm my feet. I've done my best to let go of the emotional, spiritual, and karmic baggage of the year which just ended. I feel ready to go home and shower and put on my whites, ready for the davening and singing ahead, ready for whatever may come.

Wishing all who read this a גמר חתימה טובה / g'mar chatimah tovah: may you be sealed for a good year to come!