By Dr. Betsy Stone
Every year, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I reach out to the members of my close family and ask forgiveness. Whether in person, over the phone or via hangouts or zoom, I try to remember the dumb, nasty and thoughtless things I’ve done – and I ask them to forgive me. And every year I am aware of how repetitive my al chets are. I apologize for impatience, for being wounded by petty acts, for judging harshly, for my difficulty forgiving. I regret my tendency to gossip, my ability to self-justify, my willingness to tease even though I won’t tolerate being teased. Again and again, these challenges remain part of my life, my constant battles with myself.
And I feel badly that I’m not a changed person from one year to the next. At core, I’m still me – and this me is always flawed.
The trifecta in 2020 of COVID, Racial Injustice and the election has only made me more self-critical. No matter what I do, in our current chaos, it is simply not enough. I know myself to be very lucky, to be privileged by access to quality health care, the ability to feed my family. We have been blessed in this time of enormous strife and pain.
I also realize that we – all of us – are in enough pain already. It’s been a year of deprivation – of social isolation, lack of hugs. Lack of contact and community and vacations and lunch with friends and dinner out. Deaths, fears, anxiety. Disrupted sleep and powerlessness and overreaction to every cough or sniffle.
It has also been a time of reevaluation. Who and what really matters to me? What are the very real blessings I have discovered in my life? Walking, love, nature, books – these sustain me. Teaching has kept me sane and feeling like I have something important to contribute. Caring for those I love roots me.
And I want to attend to these blessings. This year, instead of apologies, I tried something new. I went to those same people and told them they ways they are blessings in my life. I talked or wrote or emailed about their generosity, their kindness, the ways they impact me and the world around them. I told my kids who are teachers and therapists and public interest lawyers that I know how they sacrifice to make the lives of other people better. I told my granddaughters about their laughter and hugs. I told my kids how their love – for us and for each other – sustains me. I told my husband how he supports me and pushes me.
I‘m not ready for these Days of Awe. Not at all. I haven’t cooked enough or repented enough or apologized enough. I haven’t decaffeinated yet. I’ve made donations, but they don’t feel like they’re enough. I just can’t get ready.
But I can reach out to those I love and tell them how precious they are to me. I can tell my community that it sustains me. I can love fiercely and without reservation.
I hope this will suffice for God. It may have to suffice for me.
Betsy S. Stone, Ph.D., is a retired psychologist who currently teaches as an adjunct lecturer at HUC-JIR. Her classes include Human Development for Educators, The Spiritual Life-Cycle, Adolescent Development and Teens In and Out of Crisis.