Monday was picture day. Remember picture day? A day preceded by family discussion about what to wear and how to smile. When you dressed up for the camera fancier than other days. Perhaps your mother combed your hair or braided it. Perhaps there was conversation about sitting up straight or whether to wear your glasses.
In my house Monday, there was intense self-scrutiny at the breakfast table. One 9-year old used the iPad like a mirror and practiced smiling, genuinely concerned about what a good smile was. The other carefully chose breakfast so as not to have food caught in his teeth. He even went so far as not pulling out a loose front tooth in the past week so that there wouldn’t be a gap for school pictures.
I really did tell my children, as I do every year, that they should smile naturally and not worry about it. After all, school pictures, which I still purchase, cut up & place in my wallet, really don’t matter so much. After all, we take countless pictures of them each week. I tried to explain that this was different when I was little. Sure, my father was a camera buff and took a lot of pictures of my sister and me, but still, not with the frequency we take photos our children with our phones and iPads – or with the instancy that these devices allow.
I think about that each year as school photo day arrives. The passage of time. How we capture images. The stress then and lack of stress now around photos because of the instantaneous nature of digital photography.
This year picture day and the middle of Elul coincided, so my reflections on picture day took on another level of meaning. Elul is our month of self-reflection leading up to the Days of Awe. A time when we are to consider how we look – but not in terms of our hair, our teeth, our changing bodies or our clothing. It is the time for us to consider how we look on the inside, deep within our souls.
So imagine, if you were going before the Elul photographer today to snap an image of yourself what would you notice? What image would the Divine photographer capture of you depicting the year coming to an end?
- Would you be smiling because of your relations with family & friends?
- Would you see clarity of purpose and values as if you were wearing glasses?
- Would you see yourself sitting up straight with pride reflecting on how you treated colleagues & folks in the world?
- Would your attire & hair reflect taking care of self?
- Would your loose teeth or other imperfections remind you to accept yourself & others rather than look with dissatisfaction?
Elul reminds us to approach Rosh Hashanah with some of that anticipation children experience on picture day – with some angst & anxiety about what we will look like. Rosh Hashanah is not the first day for self-reflection, but it does open the door to self-scrutiny over the ten Days of Awe – challenging us to do better within our relationships – with ourselves, with God, with other people. Just as our students can have their pictures retaken if they don’t like what they see, we can have our soul images retaken – but only if we make the effort to change what is in them.
Each of us can begin that reflection, that noticing, and that change today – even as some of us have begun already in the days of Elul that have passed. The question is: Do we approach that spiritual imaging with enough anticipation so that our angst & anxiety spills over into real teshuvah – to really making change in our behavior, our words & our lives – teshuvah which allows us actual retakes in our spiritual images as we look ahead with hope, inspired by the awe of the holy days. I don’t know. I know that for all of my preparation, I could do more, do better. How about you?