September. As long as I can remember, my favorite time of year. We kids were bedecked with fresh new school clothes, our sharpened pencils and unbroken crayons lined up in their boxes like soldiers awaiting marching orders. Michigan autumns were marked by crisp blue skies and leaves turning an array of colors—scarlet, gold, yellow, magenta, as intense as the hues of those crayons.

In the midst of all this school hustle and bustle came another beginning—Rosh Hashanah. For those two days we were pulled away from the schoolyard gang, reminded we were somehow different. We rose early, got For two days we were pulled away from the schoolyard gangdecked out in our finery, and went to temple, where we sang beautiful, soulful melodies, tunes with a haunting seriousness so different from the sugary, superficial ditties we learned from TV. We dipped fresh, crunchy apples into sticky honey and relished golden, roundchallahs, purple raisins beckoning.

Autumn and the Yamim Nora’im, the High Holidays, seared together in that memory bank of childhood sensations. The dreamy, expansive days of summer had ended—days of lazily lying in a meadow, clouds and butterflies swirling overhead. Hot sun, cool pools, dripping popsicles and scraped knees–filled days of endless possibility and freedom. But fall brought a more focused mood of anticipation, tempered with a bittersweet sense that winter was just around the corner. Rosh Hashanah’s minor-tuned melodies too carried a message, which even a child could somehow sense. It’s about more than shiny shoes and sweets, those songs whispered. A Jew’s “partying” has a purpose—to inspire us to dig a bit deeper, reach a bit higher; to make our days count.

Fall was a time of measurement and accounting, as well as promise and hope. Our school health form declared just how much we’d grown, two or three inches since last September. And this year we would learn cursive writing and multiplying. And maybe be more popular!

Rosh Hashanah is a time of accounting, too, but with a more subtle set of achievement markers. Were we more patient, kind, this past year? No gold stars are given to award our victories, but we can relish an inner knowing as we slowly climb the ladder of self-refinement and growth. Hope springs eternal—we experience a Were we more patient, kind, this past year?combination of bitter remorse for squandered opportunities, and G‑d’s loving embrace as we’re given yet another chance for a fresh start.

And as much as we kvetched, there was a relief to go back to the rules and structure of school, to submit to the authority of the teacher. We knew we’d learn new skills and grow through that discipline, stretch to levels we might never reach lying around the pool. And during this season, we adults submit to the yoke of Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King, who guides us with that perfect blend of endless, loving patience and the structure of mitzvahs that offer infinite growth possibilities, in ways we could never reach left to our own bumbling devices.

My chronological years have increased a bit since kicking the leaves and avoiding the sidewalk cracks on the way home were my primary fall activities. I like to think my understanding of Judaism has increased a bit as well. As one of the much-analyzed and -probed Baby Boomers, I’ve found some correlations between middle age and the High Holidays.

As we boomers move into the autumn of our fifties and sixties, many have conflicting reactions. Mortality is more than an abstract concept. We’ve sat in shocked silence at funerals of friends, and stood with bowed heads at graves of family. Our bodies are showing signs of limitations; those gray hairs and wrinkles keep appearing. One all-nighter is followed by three days of yawning and irritability. In spite of increased fatigue and forgetfulness, I find this time surprisingly liberating.

I see my friends stepping into their own skin in a deeper way, with a stronger sense of awareness, responsibility and identity. They want to mentor others, speak out, make a difference. It’s suddenly easier to prioritize, let go of the trivialities. Having made more than a few meaty mistakes, I find it easier to see the big picture and focus on the real stuff.

Rosh Hashanah so elegantly provides us Jews with a yearly midstream pause. In the middle of our hectic lives, we take time to pull back and reflect. Like the melancholy honk of the geese flying south, we are reminded, through the pensive prayers, melodies and mood, that this life is a precious and timebound gift. Time for inventory: How well are we measuring up to our ideals? What resolutions can we make to get and stay more on track?

Maimonides likened the penetrating blast of the shofar to an alarm clock: “Wake up, you sleepers . . .” Or in more contemporary parlance, “Wake up and smell the coffee!” The summer’s over; snap out of your dreamy dilly-dallying. Go for it—let’s make our lives and world what we want them to be.

My prayers have changed as I’ve aged, ostensibly matured; like my newfound attitude, they are simpler, more focused on the essence. They cut deeper.Bless me, forgive me, embrace me

G‑d, please bless me, forgive me, embrace me. Me and mine. My dear husband is graying. Give him strength. My precious children and grandchildren. Those kids, so dear, so young and vulnerable (though of course they don’t think so), those teens and budding young adults. G‑d, please watch over them. I have to let go, trusting You to keep them in Your palm, close by and protected. Protect Your precious children and Your beloved land, each one, each inch. Bring us close to You. Reveal Your light. That’s all.”

Red and gold mark these days—glorious leaves, crisp red apples dipped in golden honey—as we pray to receive and savor blessings of sweetness. To appreciate the aching beauty in quickly passing time, with our growing awareness of its ephemeral quality, and our fleeting chance to use it wisely. The Days of Awe are just that—awe at nature’s flash of beauty throughout the seasons, awe and gratitude for our lives’ possibilities and our Creator’s closeness and majesty.