Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yom Kippur

Well, the "days of awe" are now a thing of the past in Jewish tradition. Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement that marked the end of the high holy days. What sort of an encore might anyone offer in the wake of awe? Funny how awe comes and awe goes, but the dishes always need washing.

"Atonement" is defined in an Internet dictionary as meaning

 -- compensation for a wrong
 -- the act of atoning for sin or wrongdoing (especially appeasing a deity)
When, a couple of days ago, I asked a Jewish friend if Yom Kippur were "the depressing one" among the holidays (my memory sucks), he said yes. Yom Kippur was a day designated for reflection and prayer. It was also a day on which God assessed the doings of the penitent ... and who knows what decisions God might make?

A long time ago, as a newspaper reporter, my desk was cheek-by-jowl with  a Jewish fellow who was the labor reporter. Art was short, loud and willing to believe that his skin-deep observations about the world of labor made him a credible and worthy journalist. I thought he was a pain in the ass, shallow as a teaspoon and lacking the requisite skepticism to make anyone a decent reporter. I tried to stay out of his way.

But one year, Art took several days off for the high Jewish holy days. He returned the day after Yom Kippur and ... the change was astounding. His strident bits of ignorance had been replaced by a genuine gentleness and thoughtfulness. At first I thought he was just faking it -- doing a goodie-two-shoes religious schtick -- but as the day wore on, it became clear that Art was an honest-to-God changed man. It blew my socks off, not least because I was content -- or perhaps entrenched -- in my irritable, dismissive assessment of him. What happened after that day, I don't really recall. Perhaps he returned to his smug and yappy ways. But for that one day ... I was impressed.

Reflection strikes me as a good companion. Not groveling or being owned by the past, but reflecting honestly on it. "Atonement" gives me the heebie-jeebies to the extent it means finding absolution in the judgment or kindness of another ... God or otherwise. No one can escape or change the past and reflection allows for an increased willingness to shoulder the inescapable responsibility. A get-out-of-jail-free card -- some wash-the-slate-clean or visiting-vengeance entity -- strikes me as not just fairy-tale, but a fairy tale doomed never to hear the words, "and they all lived happily ever after." Correct the mistakes of the past? Sure, to some extent. Erase them? Only a liar would try.

It can be pretty depressing, looking back on failures and mistakes. Who wouldn't give quite a lot to have turned left where they turned right or vice versa? How I wish I had. ... How I wish I hadn't. But the past cannot be retrieved or revised. And it is interesting to notice that the same function that goes into being saddened by past events is visited on pleasant and successful adventures. Sometimes laughter and delight, sometimes tears and sorrow.

The past doesn't mind.

Knock yourself out.

Reflection allows us all to vow not to do that again ... or to do it, depending on the positive-negative quotient. Vow with the sure and certain knowledge that there is no vow that cannot be broken, that the potential for screw-ups and successes is always in play. And with that potential is the responsibility that accompanies it. Reflect and reflect and reflect ....

I see nothing wrong with laying good stuff and bad off on Almighty God, seeking forgiveness or approbation ....

Nothing wrong with that...

As long as anyone was willing to go the extra step and find out who Almighty God might actually be.

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