Footsteps and Footnotes

I love the footnotes in the prayer book; sometimes they speak to me more powerfully than the liturgy itself. Yesterday during Rosh Hashanah services, as I prepared for the Amidah, the time for silent personal prayer, I read the following excerpt from a footnote:

"I am reminded that I need not know yet what is in my heart. I can take the guidance of those who came before me, and begin in the Amidah to walk their path. In doing so, I put myself into their words, and let their words lead me to my own."  

–Rabbi David A. Teutsch, p. 326 in the Kol Haneshama Reconstructionist Machzor

Something about these few lines was very comforting to me, like following fresh footsteps in the snow or a well-trodden path in the forest. I may not know where I'm going, or I am afraid of what will happen along the way. This excerpt does not advise us to pretend to be someone we are not; rather it reassures us that we can start along the path that has already been prepared, and that path will lead us to our own. 

Today I went to Fort Funston for tashlich, a Jewish ritual of "casting off" our sins from the past year so we can begin the new year afresh. We throw
bread crumbs into the water, which are then used as food by birds or fish.
Doing so represents our
intention to return to the essence of our true selves.  The air was surprisingly warm despite the fog, and the last part of the long path down to the beach was a goopy, muddy mess. We took our shoes off and I asked my friend Rachel to take the lead so I could walk in her footsteps.  In between music, poetry and bare toes in the cold Pacific Ocean, we each talked about what we want to let go of from this past year, ways we've fallen short or succumbed to the less polished parts of ourselves. 

I am letting go of everything I think I know, so I can learn a new way of being, thinking, feeling, breathing. When hope or healing seem utterly elusive, I will call forth the feeling of being there at the beach, watching the dogs run blissfully, the smell and sound of the waves, and the squishy muddy footsteps along the path.