Teshuva is a never-ending process because we are always changing and the context of our universe is always shifting….We need multiple opportunities for teshuva because our mistakes and errors change over time, and our circumstances are fluid.
— Erica Brown, Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe, 2012

I was sitting in the bathtub, counting my toes
When the radiator broke, water all froze
I got stuck in the ice without my clothes
Naked as the eyes of a clown

I was crying ice cubes, hoping I’d croak
When the sun come through the window,
the ice all broke
I stood up and laughed, thought it was a joke
That’s the way that the world goes ’round
— John Prine, “That’s the Way that the World Goes ‘Round” (details)

The “fluid” circumstances Erica Brown mentions undoubtedly bear no intentional relationship to John Prine’s bathwater. But Prine’s song and Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe have something related to say about teshuva, and together they offer a fruitful approach to “recovering” ourselves in this penitential season.

“Fluid” Circumstances

In a progression not unlike Prine’s bathtub lyrics, Brown describes “icy” feelings that can precede teshuva and calls Yom Kippur a “confrontation with death prompt[ing] us to reconsider what we’ve been living for” (p.9, 13).

Responding to Prine’s lyrics during a recent Selichot workshop, one pair of participants suggested that teshuva can involve “waiting for the sun to come up” as well as actively seeking and/or granting forgiveness. Brown notes that apology is frequently not sufficient for “thawing the remoteness that settles in between two people who want to make up but cannot get past their private wounds.” She suggests using the story of the Binding of Isaac — the first Rosh HaShana Torah reading — to consider Abraham’s “contradictory blend of patience and impatience” and ask ourselves when we need to be more patient and when more impatient (p.9, 22).

Toward the end of Return, Brown asks us to visualize a problem as the door we must go through as the gates close at the end of Yom Kippur.

Muster the strength to go through it. When you get to the other side, you will realize that it was just a door, a mere threshold into the self. You can cross the threshold. — Brown, Return (ibid, p.142)

The chorus following Prine’s bathtub tale suggests a similar visualization: “It’s half an inch of water, and you think you’re gonna drown. That’s the way that the world goes ’round.”

Half An Inch of Water

Return‘s introduction speaks of “inner battles” and “stubborn resistance to change” — the half an inch of water that can seem so overwhelming at times. However, Brown seems to say, we also know how the world goes ’round: “We all know who we are when we are our best selves. We know what that looks and feels like. Now we have to recapture it.”

Brown tells us that we have ten days to “recover, to revisit our best selves, to become whole again.” Her new volume offers an essay, “life homework,” texts to study, and questions to consider for each of the ten days. The texts for study are brief excerpts from Maimonides Laws of Repentance, Luzatto’s Path of the Just, and Kook’s Lights of Repentance.

I’m saving serious consideration of each daily section for the Days of Awe. Her introduction alone has already been worth the purchase price for me, however, so I recommend trying to get hold of a copy sometime soon, before the high holidays begin, if possible.

Meanwhile, Prine’s song is shared in its entirety below. And Prine lyrics are among the ten readings, intended for progressive reflection, selected for Fabrangen’s Selichot workshop this year. Also included are a number of passages, not overlapping with those cited by Brown, from Rav Kook’s Lights of Repentance.

The workshop, “Using Teshuvah to Live the Life that We Love and Love the Life that We Live,” was envisioned by Bracha Laster. (Perhaps she will share some of her notes here.) Fabrangen’s workshop was one of several offered in preparation for a joint Selichot service organized by Fabrangen, Tikkun Leil Shabbat, and Zoo Minyan.
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“That’s the Way…”: Lyrics, Notes, and Video

“That’s the Way that the World Goes ‘Round”
Lyrics and music by John Prine. Bruised Orange, Asylum Records 1978

…I was sitting in the bathtub, counting my toes
When the radiator broke, water all froze
I got stuck in the ice without my clothes
Naked as the eyes of a clown

I was crying ice cubes, hoping I’d croak
When the sun come through the window,
the ice all broke
I stood up and laughed, thought it was a joke
That’s the way that the world goes ’round

That’s the way that the world goes ’round
You’re up one day, the next you’re down
It’s half an inch of water
and you think you’re gonna drown
That’s the way that the world goes ’round

from “Misheard John Prine: “It’s half an enchilada…,” the cocktail-inspiring “Happy Enchilada…,” and, perhaps most apropos: “It’s a habit that you wallow, and you think you’re gonna drown.”

Note that “Happy Enchilada” makes it’s way into the live version embedded here.”

In the spirit of creative mishearing, this year I’m hearing the last phrase as “time to turn around.”


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Elul, high holidays, repentance, Rosh Hashanah, Selichot, Yom Kippur

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