We stagger in the aftermath of the death of someone we loved; we wonder if we can keep up our courage, our will to go on, in the face of illness or accident, the loss of a job or relationship, the throb of depression. How do we live hopefully, knowing that pain is a permanent part of our life?

I have been knocked off stride by this holiday season. The memories of the first and last days of my late husband Paul’s illness, and the deep longing I feel for his presence, have come out of hiding. Busy with the new normality of my life, I forgot that recovery is not a straight uphill journey. How, I now wonder, can we really help ourselves and help each other to feel whole, at one with ourselves? What are the little steps we can take?

Most all of us have had our vision of wholeness shattered. We will never get it back…But slowly, and with ups, downs, and side tracks, most of us have managed to put together fragments of that whole, and to rebuild structures that give our lives coherence. We have filled the empty spaces with love, with friendship, with books, with work and tasks and causes, with passions and commitments.

Often we are content, even happy, with our patched-up lives. But suddenly, we find that we can see only the cracks.

And from time to time we break down. We feel we just can’t keep going. We need to help to find the courage to face the reality that our lives and our world are so imperfect.

These holidays, the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), bring us face to heart with this pain. I spent much of Rosh Hashana feeling as though there a knife twisting in my gut. I kept trying to figure out where could I, where could we, get the courage to change. How do we let go of pain? How do we face the next day with optimism when we have to cope with the same depressing reality? Where does God fit into this puzzle?

You can panic when you start to get into these questions. You are in the meitzar, the depths, and you don’t know if anyone is listening when you cry out. Worse, you wonder if you’ll let them help you if you do.

Finally, I noticed the obvious. The Yamim Noraim open up the pain - but they are a vehicle for healing it, too.

Rachel Cowan reading an excerpt from her Yom Kippur sermon, “Paths to Healing,” which was printed in The Outstreatched Arm, newsletter of the Jewish Healing Center, Fall 1991.

Credit: Courtesy of Rachel Cowan.