I’ve written about my early autumn blues — how the slantwise angle of the sunlight, the shift of priorities, and the approach of the high holidays and my birthday make me pensive and disconsolate. Summer always goes away so quickly, and then I’m driving Simone to school just after dawn, putting away the linen pants, and turning on the lights in the house earlier than before. It’s rough to lose the unstructured time and warm evenings that summer provided, both for Simone and for me.
If I’m more blue than usual this year, it’s probably because this month has felt so stark and bleak compared to last fall’s hints of hope and possibility, when I believed something real and lasting was in the works. Instead, here I am again, faced with another set of holidays and another birthday, and that one right girl isn’t here to make it all something to look forward to.
But as much as I feel the internal struggle to stay positive, motivated, and optimistic, my situation isn’t nearly as rough as that of one of my best friends, who’s in the midst of a devastating breakup. It doesn’t help that her ex-boyfriend’s birthday and the anniversary of her mom’s passing were within days of each other. She’s deep in the post-breakup hopelessness, the low funk of broken possibilities, and it’s all she can do to manage work and parenting and friendships and everything else.
You know how that is.
She was telling me how she wonders what she could have done differently, what she fucked up, or if she’d said this, instead of that, if they would still be together.
And of course it didn’t matter how I answered — whether I told her that she shouldn’t think that way, or that she was better off without him, or that she was a wonderful, smart, and attractive woman who’d find someone who deserved everything she had to offer. Because, even if she believed me, it wouldn’t stop her from wondering if some small thing she did or didn’t do could have kept them together.
I know this, because I do it, too.
I’m writing this on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins. This is the time of year when we ask those we’ve wronged for forgiveness—for hurting their feelings, for being dishonest, for not listening or caring or paying attention. For being insulting or patronizing, for not helping when we should have. We ask G-d for forgiveness, too, but that doesn’t absolve us from the harm we did to others — we still need to reach out to them.
And, each year, I think about the people I’ve hurt or disappointed and try to take a moment to ask for their forgiveness.
But I had a revelation, a few days ago, drifting into my own recursive, self-defeating litany of “what if I’d said that to her, and not this?” and thinking how my friend is torturing herself with the same kinds of questions. I thought, “Crap, what if I just try to forgive myself this year?”
And what if my friend could think about doing the same thing?
What if she said, “Sure, you messed up sometimes, and maybe if you hadn’t done that one thing, or said that other thing, or insisted on that other thing, then he might have stayed a little longer. And who knows if that would have been for the best, or if it was just delaying the inevitable? Maybe you weren’t actually compatible in the long term, or maybe you were. But you can’t take any of that back. And, anyway, it doesn’t matter, because he had his own stuff that you never could have worked around. And that doesn’t matter, either, because it’s over and done, and it just wasn’t meant to be. So maybe it’s time to let it go, to forgive yourself for the fuck-ups, both real and perceived, and know you’ll do better next time.”
Maybe it’s time to say, “Yep, I could probably have handled some things more gracefully, but every botched relationship gets me closer to who I want to be, and the right person for me, if I only learn from it. So, fuck it. I forgive him for his jackassery and for not realizing how I awesome I am. And I forgive myself for my part in it — we both could have done things better, but we didn’t. It’s over, and somebody even more awesome for me really, really will emerge.”
I think of G-d as the potential and energy between the neutrons and electrons and everything else in every atom. Everything around us is mostly empty space — vast distances held together only by clouds of energy and probability; by the rapid movement of subatomic particles.
That’s where G-d lives. Which means G-d is in every atom in existence — G-d is in us and everything around us.
And when we live in a way that resonates with that energy and possibility, we do better.
So when we fast and pray at Yom Kippur services, we’re not asking some guy in the sky, with a flowing beard and a big, marble chair, to forgive us. We’re asking something bigger — we’re opening up our souls to bring positive intention back into our world, bringing ourselves, all the way down to the subatomic level, back into resonance with a healthier way of living. When we ask those we wronged to forgive us for being jerks, when we believe in our hearts that we can work to become better people, we create the kind of energy that helps make the world better.
Praying and fasting and acts of charity don’t stop bad things from happening to us and the ones we love. But the intention behind those acts positions us to handle them with more grace and faith. We align ourselves with the kinds of energy that increase beauty and joy and graciousness in the world, and we’re better able to cope.
But that’s all really hard to do if your heartache is wrapped up in a painful monologue of your screw-ups (perceived and real), of the things you did or didn’t do that (may or may not have) caused the other person to leave. It’s okay to feel heartbroken. For as long as you need to. But it’s also okay to let the I-should-haves go — to take a deep breath, say, “Yeah, that part was me. I’ll do better next time.”
I don’t know if it’s even possible for my friend to do this, yet. But I’m going to try it myself — I’m finding all kinds of creative ways to shift out of my internal monologues and move my thought processes to better places — knotty narrative issues with my latest novel, problems that I need to solve for our clients, new songs to learn on the ukulele, meals to cook for Simone.
I can’t fix the past. I can only take responsibility for my mistakes, and move forward. So that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s a lot harder to forgive yourself than to apologize and ask it of someone else.
This year, I’m setting an intention for love and prosperity — not just for me, but to bring more of it into the world around me. So that is what I wish for you, my lovely, kind, and supportive readers.
Love and prosperity in 5776.