Awesome and Full of Dread

Fall is past its peak in my neighborhood. The legacy fall is leaving behind: literally, leaves. Heaps and piles of leaves. Leaf towers so high you could hide a small marching band inside them.

The biggest leaf pile of all currently rests across the street from my house. It was cleverly and carefully built around a telephone pole, about half of which is buried underneath. It is the mother of all leaf piles.

“Look, at that pile!” my mom shouted, gesturing to this behemoth display. “It is awesome and full of dread.”

That was the perfect adjective. And what poetic phraseology! Too bad it’s a borrowed term. Reform Jews nationwide know that phrase. They read it every year. I know it by heart.

“This is the Day of Atonement. It is awesome and full of dread.”

It’s amazing how religious vernacular can creep into our vocabulary, sometimes without us even noticing. It catches me by surprise that certain religious words have become so natural to me that I can conjure them up under the most mundane circumstances, as if they’re resting in an inescapable stockpile in the brain. Even more surprising is how appropriate they sometimes seem out of context.

I’ve been noticing that this happens a lot.

Another example: a few weeks ago I was given dating advice by a local bartender. My eyes were starting to glaze over as he pontificated over what to do should one find oneself in an unhealthy relationship. He was relating it a bad relationship he had recently gotten out of.

All of a sudden I heard, “…by the time she turns around, she’ll be a pillar of salt.”

He noticed that I reacted.  “Yeah, you got that reference,” he said.

“Bible quote,” I replied.

“Yeah, Lot’s wife!” he confirmed.

The allusion was simultaneously superfluous and perfect. What a random story to bring up. And yet, kind of brilliant.

It’s also happening in national broadcasts. Did anyone catch this bit of Jimmy Fallon’s monologue last Thursday?

I don’t think he got as big a reaction as he anticipated. But really, how genius?

Just as an experiment, keep your ears pealed this week. The more you start to listen for it, the more you realize that it’s everywhere.

Jessica Miller graduated from Barnard College in 2009 with a BA in religion, and is psyched to finally have an answer to the question, “so what does one do with a religion major?” Her writing has appeared on Jewcy, Mashable, and the Huffington Post.  In her spare time she can be found sailing, playing music, and blogging about boomerangs.