Don’t Forget Who You Once Were by Cantor Mary Rebecca Thomas


I had a vacation day earlier this week, and I spent it entirely sitting in public spaces (Barnes and Nobles, Amelie’s) reading a book that simply had nothing to do with Judaism, or my job, or the Jewish people, or community building, or prayer, or Torah. It was just a book and a book on a subject that used to consume much of my time long before I ever became immersed in the pursuit of cantorial and professional excellence. I read a little. I wrote notes in a super-nerdy Harry Potter themed journal using many colored pens. I drank a lot of coffee. I ate some soup.

I walked into the synagogue the next day bounding with energy, renewed from the very core of my being, filled with light and a sense of possibility. I had the wherewithal to remember that I am not, today, who I once was, but that maybe the young, non-grown up me needed to be honored, as well.

We change over time. Our lives become consumed by whatever stage we are in – young adults building careers, parents struggling to find balance, singles looking for companionship, empty-nesters with shifting responsibilities, those in the “sandwich” with incredible care-giving demands coming from multiple family members – and each of these stages come with their own set of dynamics and demands that have a way of ruling our lives.

During the high holidays (enough about them, already – they are over!) we have a sense of forward motion and goal setting for the year to come. We look at where we’ve missed the mark and we commit to doing better next year.

But sometimes, the forward motion only comes when we revisit who we have been, not that we should be more like we were when we were –  1) less experienced, 2) didn’t have kids, 3) hadn’t become weary by time, or 4) before we made that one bad choice – but that in revisiting who we were can remind us of who we’d like to be. Maybe the old us wasn’t so bad and revisiting what used to make us tic can help us have a more fully integrated sense of who we are.

Who were you in high school? In college? In your first job? What did you love to do with your time? What made you feel most like you? Have you done that thing in a while? What if you took an afternoon to do those things: sing high school musicals, go kayaking, plan a trip to visit where you grew up or went to school, play that guitar in your garage? What might happen?

Maybe you’ll connect a little bit with who is at the core of you, like I did. Maybe you’ll feel like the you who you were 20 or 30 or 40 years ago is a thriving part of your story even today. Maybe the old you will remind you of your once hopes and early dreams and give you a renewed sense of passion to achieve them. Maybe those goals will come down from a dusty, mental shelf where you placed them a while back.

“Hayashan yitchadeish v’hechadash vitkadeish” – Rav Kook taught, “The old shall become new and the new shall become holy.” May we stay deeply connected to who we were and what we loved and who we longed to be as we walk through our often busy existence, that our old selves may be renewed and our new selves shall strive for holiness. Don’t forget who you once were before life got more complicated.