The Jewish New Year occurred while I was in Uganda. On my final night at St. Mary Kevin, my Jewish friends and family were in America celebrating this important holiday, Rosh Hashanah. My grand kids were eating apples and honey, symbols of hope for a sweet year to come. While I'm not a strictly "observant" Jew, I did miss being at home for this special holiday.
I didn't feel well that last day, having finally succumbed to the scratchy sore throat and headache that had been festering for a couple days. I stayed in my room all day until just before dinner. After a delightful bowl of soup with Melissa, I made my way through the inky blackness of the Uganda night toward the dorms to see if I could round up a few kids for some goodbye hugs. It was almost bedtime by then. My flight didn't leave until after midnight, so I had some time.
Walking toward the entrance to SMK, blanketed by blackness, I began to hear the throbbing of drums and the uplifted voices of children.
Melissa explained to me later that one of the teachers has recently begun "prayer service" for those children who wish to participate. It takes place just before bedtime, and it involves singing, drumming, outstretched arms, tears streaming down faces, intense joy, intense sadness, a bible reading and thoughtful, heartfelt prayer.
And I do mean heartfelt.
I was so moved. Watching these children reach deep inside themselves, express gratitude to a higher power for the goodness in their lives and ask for strength to move forward was humbling and incredibly powerful. I don't know how long they had been going on already, but I got to watch for a good half hour or so.
When the children finished, they gathered around me and gave me long, tearful hugs.
In my mind's eye, I handed each a slice of apple dipped in honey. Then I wiped away my tears and headed for home. I couldn't have asked for a sweeter, more meaningful ending to my trip.