The New Year on the Jewish calendar (It's the year 5777 for those of you counting) never evoked in me the same feeling of renewal that January 1 has always brought me. But the next holiday for my tribe, Yom Kippur, is supposed to, I think. Yom Kippur, quite simply is the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day in the Jewish year because you fast and abstain from doing anything fun while you hope God forgives you for all your shenanigans during the year. I don't think that's the official explanation or definition, and I know there's a lot more to it, but you get the idea.
Because we were never a religious family and still are not, but because my parents wanted us to understand our culture and holidays, Yom Kippur meant a day off of school with no TV or phones and once we were older, we would fast for the day. My mother and father would suggest that we think about all the bad things we had done and think about how we should not do those things anymore. I would make a list. Fighting with my sister was always the easy number one followed by being disrespectful to my parents. I was a fairly good kid.
I continued this tradition of using the day to think about being a better person through college to the present. The older I get, the longer the annual list becomes. And although some people may disagree, this is not necessarily because I've become a terrible person, I just recognize those flaws in me that might make me a little worse than I could be.
So I write my lists and say "sorry for being a jerk, God. I'll do better next time." But that's not really the point of the exercise and it should never stop there.
Like a lot of people, I say "sorry" a lot. Perhaps more often than I should, Yoda tells me. Although I have often been criticized for not taking responsibility for my actions, for blaming and deflecting, believe me, I do. I take on more responsibility than is probably necessary at times. One of the reasons I think I do that is I cannot stand people who cannot admit they've screwed up, who cannot look in the mirror and accept blame for a bad move or decision.
And another reason is the guilt. I will feel guilty about messing up at work, for saying something nasty and making someone feel badly (usually a sister), for making bad choices that affect others. I regret and then I try to fix it. Sometimes I can, sometimes all I can do is say my "sorry" and hope we can all move on.
I don't think sorry is every really enough in some cases. A prime example: I rear-ended a very nice family on their way home from a 10 hour car ride from the Outer Banks. Nothing terrible, luckily. My tank of a car smashed into their bike rack, so some minor damage to their bikes and rack. I probably need to replace my front bumper, but no one was hurt and no damage to their car. I probably apologized 100 times. I felt horrible. These poor people just wanted to get home, and I completely wrecked that up. But they were decent and fair, which made me feel even more guilty about my horrible driving. (And my 6 month long streak of not running into stuff with a car is broken. Usually, it's stuff. I've never actually had an "accident" with another car.)
I paid them for all the damage to their bikes and rack and then some. I put together a care-package of my books, some law firm swag and I gave them a gift card to a nice restaurant for a night out on me. It was the very least I could do because I didn't feel that saying sorry was enough for probably ruining the end of their vacation.
Apparently, it would have been and they were so taken aback by my guilt-gifts, the wife posted an itemized list on Facebook. She didn't name me, she just described me, but it turns out we have a lot of mutual friends so a lot of people now also know how my Saturday night started out. Ahh, the power and connectivity of social media...
In any case, I caused this stupid crash because I chose to allow my mind to wander and wasn't watching where I was going on the road. Literally, this is the beginning few lines of my Opening Statement to the jury in a car crash case. More reason for my guilt and why sorry wasn't enough.
Aside from the Facebook shout out, the husband texted me and thanked me for the gifts and for cutting them a check for the damage so quickly. He even praised me for being a "good, and decent person." That made me feel a little better. Doing "the right thing" has that effect.
But what about those catastrophic F-ups? I've got one of those and I have taken more responsibility for it than I should, I have recently realized. (No, nobody died or was physically harmed by me. I just made a very bad and selfish decision that ended up back firing and affecting more people than just me.) I suppose there is nothing wrong, exactly, for taking the fall for something you did, even when you weren't the only person involved. And naturally, I feel badly enough for my role. But my hang up was that moment I realized that all fingers were now pointing at me. All my fault? Hold the phone, people. That's not how this all went down and I can prove it! (Should I?)
Remember that time you put a hole in the wall of the living room because you were using PVC pipe in the house in a sword fight battle with your sister and one of you has really bad aim? (I don't remember that either, mom) And remember when your mom angrily asked you who did it (and where did you find that PVC pipe, anyway?), you and your sister both pointed at each other? And that prompted the consistent, loud argument: "She's lying, she always lies. She did it!" But you both got punished anyway because you were both at fault for doing something stupid in the house and then not taking responsibility. And because you were 11 and foolish, rather than accept responsibility for your part, while stuck in your room, you would write an essay explaining what happened, and why physics and common sense proved it wasn't really your fault? But in the end, the only way to escape the boredom and isolation of the bedroom and further punishment was to come out with a full confession and genuine apology - understand why you're sorry and mean it or be returned to your boring bedroom. Proving I wasn't entirely at fault was never going to help me escape at least some punishment and blame.
Those types of lessons as kids have led me to err on the side of the full truth when I screw up. "That's totally my fault, and I'm sorry" is a phrase I use often. I came to believe the truth will set me free. Just confess, accept blame and try to fix it. We all recall how "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" worked out for Bill Clinton...oh wait, bad example.
But now, as I consider all the nonsense that I need to reflect upon as this High Holy day approaches, I'm concerned about my "catastrophic F-up." What's important to know is that this screw up occurred a few years ago, but the lingering effects keep it on my list. And because of the lingering after-shocks, I am wondering if I am ever going to be entitled to escape this bad thing I did. Maybe I'm not. Maybe that's the punishment for someone like me - to deal with rumors and gossip and stares and whispers; to hear "That's her. Did you hear...?" whispered when I walk by in certain circles forever.
I try not to dwell on the gossip-mongers out there who are just too happy to ruin my reputation, whether what they are spreading is accurate or not. And what can I do beyond what I have tried to do? I've confessed, apologized, accepted responsibility - all the things I thought I needed to do. I have no control over how other people react or what other people perceive to be a way to punish me because they, although not within the zone of my destruction, decide they didn't like my decision and how it panned out. What a relief that everyone else is so perfect.
Eventually, someone else in the world will do something catastrophically stupid, the world will be bored of my tale and will finally move on. Nevertheless, I will continue to be punished by my own guilt - the guilt of knowing I had a choice, chose wrong and caused harm. I will be sorry the rest of my life for it because I can't change what I did. I can't take it back. I can just say sorry and be truly sorry. A gift card to a restaurant or law firm T-shirts will not make it better.
On this solemn High Holy day, I will be celebrating my cousin's birthday on a short but needed Caribbean getaway, hoping this monster, Hurricane Matthew doesn't mess up our travel plans. I'm sure we will have fun, but like on most days, when it's really quiet, I think about what I've done wrong and how I will never make a mistake like that again.
I'm supposed to be asking for God's forgiveness so that he will "purify" me or something. But I think it's more important to ask for the forgiveness of all the people I've harmed in little ways, in big ways, in weird ways, in ways I didn't even know. And so I ask, humbly.
My future is so exciting. For once, I can see it. And while it would be selfish to ask for "bygones" and just forget about my past mistakes, I want to move forward without the constant reminder of them. Mostly, I want the people around me to know there are mistakes you make one time. Never again.