The essential oil I’ve been rubbing on the souls of my feet the past few mornings is called “Purification.” It sits by my yoga mat and because I ran out of my favorite lavender oil, I have been using it instead as a sensory boost. After all, purification is a lofty ideal. When I later learned, however, that the blend was intended to battle bad smells, I laughed.
Approaching the Jewish High Holy days, I’d had a different kind of purification in mind: atonement, making amends, an overall spiritual cleanse. It’s the time of year when things start up again, school is back in session, vacation is over, and, no matter one’s age, the opportunity to start fresh hangs in the crisp fall air.
In my musing about purification, I realized I have the most elemental cleansing agents at my front door: fire and salt water. I do not have to buy these things in a pricey glass bottle. They are not in short supply. However, coming into contact with fire, one is more often faced with destruction than purification. My brother and sister-in-law recently suffered a bad fire in their home. In dealing with their loss during the aftermath, fire was definitely cast as the enemy. Despite the upheaval the fire caused, it also stripped away all their accoutrements, taking them back to the basics. Shamans and healers have often used fire in renewal and purification ceremonies. Fire results in rapid transformation and releasing drama. Fire simplifies.
Don’t worry, I wasn’t so insensitive as to mention the silver lining of a house fire while my displaced relatives camped out with us.
Our home is surrounded by seawater, also a well-known cleansing agent since the beginning of time. John had a great aunt in Miami who used to trudge her dishes down to the sea whenever her kosher kitchen was compromised. And in my quirky old-wives tale mentality, I’ve always praised seawater as a cure-all. When my kids battled poison ivy or warts or a bad complexion – forget the dermatologist, jumping in the ocean was my prescription. Yet when my other set of in-laws called this morning to say their home in Florida was being ravaged by rain and tidal surges caused by Hurricane Irma, the whole purification angle didn’t seem the right place to venture.
My sister-in-law warned I should be on the lookout for locusts. At least we’re still laughing. Did I mention that the house fire was caused by a burning bush? There are signs all around us.
In EDEN, the Meister family rebuilds after the 1938 Hurricane, in the spirit of renewal and getting back to basics. But nobody can build a fortress against human nature. Vulnerability is at the core of what it is to be human.
Later this month, I’ll be in services with my family. I’ll be asked to take personal inventory, to recall how “I’ve missed the mark in the past year”, all in a quest for something akin to purification. There will be no salve to aid in the work the liturgy asks of me. My mind will undoubtedly wander, until I start dwelling on the people who aren’t with me anymore. Every autumn I’m asked to walk through the metaphorical fire, where I’ll well up with actual salt-water tears. Opportunities for purification abound, however, they never come in a bottle.