Thoughts on Asking for and Giving Forgiveness



Today is Yom Kippur, the most sacred day in the Jewish liturgical tradition. It starts with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and ends almost two weeks later with what is known as "The Day of Repentance." In reality, it's only the final day of repentance. In the time between the New Year and Yom Kippur, the observant ask for forgiveness from all the people they've done wrong in the previous year, the "10 days of repentance." This all culminates on Yom Kippur, the final day, when you are supposed to ask G-d for forgiveness, essentially acknowledging that all things are His creation, and that when you do wrongs against them you do them against Him as well. This idea is taken even a step further in the Kabbalistic idea that everything was created when G-d exploded himself, leaving a spark of the divine in every single thing on earth.

Don't ask me how I know all this, at one time I had a memory like a USB stick. Everything I read, everything I was told, stuck inside me as if I had pressed control S.

What does it mean if every single thing on earth has a spark of divine in it? How should we treat it? How should we treat ourselves?

It's a question I used to ask a lot during my days as a Jewish educator, one which I heard echoed in my practice of yoga and meditation and one which I try to hold onto even now that I consider myself more "spiritual" than "religious".

On this day - this special, sacred day - I am not at services. I am lying in bed. I am fasting, but not because I am doing penance - because eating still makes me feel terrible. It is a selfish act, and one that has caused me to lose almost 17 pounds since my mastectomy surgery. It's forced me to spend way more time than feels comfortable in my bed, in my apartment, with nothing but my "divine" puppy to keep me company.

Being sick makes you selfish. It's a survival instinct. I need help, and I have learned to ask for that help, to monitor my body for the slightest twinge or lump or irregularity lest I miss something that speaks of spreading disease. I regret this selfishness, while also feeling powerless to do anything about it. I am sorry for so many things, so many mistakes, that I have done to others - whether knowingly or because of inattention. I want to start this year with a slate wiped clean just like everyone else. So I turned to my church, the church of writing.

There is a sharp line in my mind between regrets - which can feel like poison - and apology. Regrets are things I'm sorry I didn't do because they had direct consequences that impacted my life. I regret not knowing the cancer had metastasized to my bones before enduring chemo and all it's side effects. I regret not meeting my husband 10 years before and suffering through my twenties dating other people. Apology for me is not about wishing you could change things in the past. It's not a time machine to save yourself from pain. Apology is about growing as a person. It's about knowing you've done something that wasn't the best that you are capable of, and committing to doing a better job in the future.  I hope, with this list, to tread lightly on the place where those two things intersect.

Here are the things I am so sorry for right now:

I am sorry if you sent me a note, or a gift, or a text, or any other kind of tangible or intangible act of love and I did not get back to you with a personal and deeply heartfelt message of gratitude. I read them all, I need them to survive, but sometimes the act of expressing that is intolerable. I am scared of how much help I still need, terrified of how inadequate the words are, and also shamed by the time between my responses. I hope that if you read this you will know how truly grateful I am for your time and attention, and how much it heals me.

I am sorry for being selfish. For all the times you asked how I was doing and I did not ask back. I could blame it on exhaustion, or not feeling well, but at the end of the day I know that that's not good enough. I want to know how you are too, I really do, and for my thoughtless lack of attention to you I apologize.

I apologize if I indirectly made you feel bad about yourself. I know how deeply words and actions can cut, and I try whenever possible not to, but it still happens. Every single time it does it haunts me, because I can see so clearly where I could've done better. Hindsight is 20/20, but thoughtlessness can cut just as deeply as intentional wounds. For this I am so sorry.

I am sorry for caring about frivolous things when there are so many serious things in the world. I feel powerless against even fighting my own disease, and the problems of the world start to overwhelm me with their scope. I know giving up and focusing on superficial things is not the answer, but boy is it easier. I am sorry for taking the easy way out.

I'm sorry for gossiping behind peoples backs. I want to say it's because I care so deeply about other people and their lives - but it hurts when people talk about me behind my back, and I feel guilty for doing the same. I'm sorry for taking the easy way out and processing my feelings with other people instead of bringing them to you so we can work on them together. I'm sorry for not being a better friend.

Most of all I am sorry for not being grateful for every single blessing I do have. I'm sorry for feeling jealous, left behind, left out, isolated. I am truly blessed every single day, and when I let the dark thoughts creep in it only makes me feel worse. I'm sorry for counting someone else's blessings instead of counting my own.

I hope that you will except these apologies with what they are intended, a promise to try harder not to make the same mistakes in the coming year. If you forgive me, I promise to cherish that hard won gift and to pass it on to someone else. And if you need my forgiveness for something, you have it - I'm wiping last years slate clean and starting fresh this year for you also.

Lots of love on this day,
Dena