Nothing Gold Can Stay: Life, Death and the Jewish New Year

I climbed into the ambulance behind the stretcher and thought: Oh, God; today is the day I am going to become a widow.

My husband had collapsed at work. His consciousness and cognition were scrambled. He didn't know where he was and could not identify the year. His colleagues were white-faced and the paramedics looked grim.

I should have taken him to Italy instead of saving for retirement, I thought. And why did I have to yell at him all the time for leaving his shoes in the hallway?

I stroked his face, looked into his eyes and lied. I told him everything would be okay.

But then, a mere few hours later, it was. His cognition returned. The ominous medical tests came back negative. The physicians cheerfully returned a rare diagnosis of global transient amnesia. A brain fart, if you will. Duration: two to 24 hours. Cause: unknown. Chance of recurrence: virtually none. Lasting effects: nil.

Except an acute lesson for me, leading into the High Holidays, of both how frail and how resilient human beings are, and how fleeting and precious are our lives.

I have responded with equal measures of gratitude and panic.

In the week since Joel returned home, I have not been myself. I jump every time the phone rings. I have forgotten my keys, a hair appointment, where I parked my car. And I count the days to Rosh Hashanah with equal measures of awe and trembling. I am so keenly aware, now, of all that I have to lose.

Nothing gold can stay, the poet promised, and his words haunt me this year. The self-help books have it all wrong. A midlife crisis isn't about facing our own mortality. It's about facing the mortality of the ones we love the most.

Perhaps this is why people set new goals for themselves, embarking on new challenges and adventures. You reinvent your world as well as yourself when you earn another degree, learn a foreign language or master a new skill. It's a way for us to force ourselves to move forward instead of clinging to every sign post -- and loved one -- in our path.

This is agonizing for me, because I am both a sentimental fool and a creature of habit. My husband and I have lived in the same house for 25 years and shopped at the same local businesses. I have shoes older than my adult daughter. I still have friends from grade school.

But over the years, my neighborhood dry cleaners, grocery store and favorite local restaurants have folded, one by one. Shoe styles have changed. Many of my friends have moved.

So today I am forging different shopping routines, buying new shoes, making new friends -- and learning to kayak.

I am trying to head into the new year with a heart that is open and new, too.

And I've started planning to take my husband on that trip to Italy.

A version of this post originally appeared on juf.org