The birds, they sang at the break of day
‘start again,’ I heard them say – ‘don’t dwell on what has passed away
or what is yet to be.’
Ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
there is a crack, a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in
–Anthem, Leonard Cohen
High Holy Days took me by surprise this year. I had gotten off the plane at 3am from visiting my new love, opening door after door into a new life that holds both promise and challenges; trembling with fear and a last-minute feeling of unreadiness,
my center hadn’t arrived home yet. My body had, but the rest hadn’t caught up yet.
“I’ll go to this service tonight just to catch up,” I thought, not really defining what “catch up” meant.
“To get centered again in my community and spiritual life.” and then, the famous last words I have said every year so far: “It’s just Slichot. That’s just the threshhold of High Holy Days – not one of the heavy services. I can handle it.”
It’s “just” Slichot.
Slichot – when we do the heavy work of forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but forgiving is sometimes far more difficult for me than owning my sh*t and apologizing. With apology, I can do my own work – I can use compassion, which is my strongest muscle. I can take accountability and it doesn’t matter whether someone accepts my true apology or chooses unkindness in response – I have done my work. I keep doing it. I take responsibility and work toward closure.
Forgiving others isn’t so hard, either…
except this year. This year, I have been thrown with jarring force against some boulders in the stream.
One who has taken his own life by his own choice,
and one who left me years ago without a single word of apology or explanation.
These both I am having trouble forgiving.
On a deeper level, I am having trouble forgiving myself.
What for? What did I do, that I cannot forgive myself for these losses?
It’s not always rational, the way the heart cries out.
So, I just listen. I listen and sit with the grief this year. The grief, the anger, the incomprehension.
The name that keeps repeating itself in my life – all three men bear the same name –
Friend who killed himself. Teacher who betrayed. Love who has become in many ways my guardian angel, for better and for worse – they all have brought me deep challenges.
As I grow older I am learning we aren’t always blessed with answers, with closure. Sometimes we just have to sit with what is, as wild, messy and incomprehensible as it may be.
So I find myself this year in a dark wood, the right road lost …
and yet, I know I’m exactly where I need to be.
Sitting with the anger, the mourning, I breathe in simple gratitude for my life as it unfolds around me. In the stillness, which is really the sounds of my neighbors coughing, shuffling, a whisper here, a sigh there – the usual sounds of stifled laughter markedly absent from this service, although there was laughter even this time –
I call in courage. Courage to grow larger than this grief, so I may contain it;
courage to expand and adventure bravely, and laugh again around the sharp edges of fear –
Courage to open my heart yet again to someone who, simply because he’s human, is given the power to cause hurt –
Courage to shift into a new rhythm that means traveling, being open to change, sitting with the fear every day and moment it arises, as it is hitting me hard and fast now in the shock of such deep changes –
“I work on forgiveness,”
“I forgive,” as the rational mind can’t set a timeline for the heart.
I work on forgiveness.