As we move inexorably toward Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, I have been struggling with the concept of forgiveness, and all it means to me. Reciting the Al Chet prayer multiple times over a 25-hour period has become less meaningful to me. Someone close to me told me a story in which she was advised, upon suddenly becoming ill, to “forgive everything.” I was profoundly struck by this, and began reflecting all the different meanings of “forgive.” Starting from Roget’s Thesaurus, I explored synonyms of “forgiveness” and “forgive,” which led me to write this poem:
This is the season: to atone, apologize, ask forgiveness, clear the air, compensate, correct, extend an olive branch…to repent. This is the season: to absolve, exonerate, let go of, let bygones be bygones, make peace, show forgiveness…to pardon. This is the season: to cleanse, expunge, purify, wipe the slate clean…to renew. Words. All words. Just words? Too many words. Too many meanings. Too few meanings. Too many words with no meaning. Where is the meaning? Every year, we dutifully recite the Al Chet as we beat (or gently tap) our chests express our sins in community take responsibility even for those sins we have not committed because, as Jews, we are responsible, in some small way, for all Jews’ actions (forgive me God for we have sinned…). Do we think about the sins we recite? Do we understand what we repeat in Hebrew, year after year after year? These words had meaning to our ancestors. Now? Some resonate, some do not. Now? I don’t know… I belonged to a congregation in New York City that wrote down its sins on S’lichot; its up-to-date, up to the minute, sins about not recycling about overeating, undereating, overindulging. The Rabbi read these at Yom Kippur, during the Al Chet. A beautiful intention. A meaningful Kavanah. One that didn’t work, for me. Here is where I am this Yom Kippur: Forgive everything. Forgive all. Forgive myself…for everything for not treating my body as sacred for not honoring life, even as I choose it for the part of me wanting to die on a weekly, if not daily, basis for my failures; for my kavanot gone by the wayside for my intentions not moved ahead; or moved ahead and then abandoned for pain I have caused others; for pain I have caused myself for the times I have not been available to myself; for the times I have not been available to others for not understanding or accepting that to be human is to be fallible. Forgive others…for everything for the pain they have caused me; for the pain they have caused themselves for their unavailability; for their over-availability (which allowed me not to feel what I needed to feel) for their anger; for their rage for their letting me down; for their letting themselves down for their weakness in not confronting injustice for their acting out instead of acting up. Forgive. Know that I am forgiving. Know that I am asking forgiveness. And know why. Mindful forgiveness. Forgiveness that heals Forgiveness that brings peace Peace to self and to other; to the other self within (even if not to the one being forgiven, or from whom forgiveness is sought) Forgiveness that brings the light of God inside that opens up heart and soul that allows movement forward upward inward. And…finally… Ask forgiveness of God. And forgive God: for letting me down; for not being present for not seeming to heed my prayers; for not heeding my prayers for deaths caused; for deaths averted for suffering; for illness for war; for false peace. For Everything. V’al kulam Eloha s’lichot, s’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kaper lanu.