Notes on Yom Kippur

I by no means consider myself to be an expert “apologizer” but it is a topic I have some amount of experience with—as most likely do you—given I have been on both the giving and receiving end of plenty of apologies in plenty of different contexts.

For a few reasons, I thought it would be fitting for me to write an essay today on the topic of apologizing. This is not advice, but consider it an exploration of my relationship with apologies.

The first reason this essay made sense to dive into today is that today is Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday (I am Jewish)that occurs every fall. It is supposed to be the “holiest day” in all of Judaism. The theme of Yom Kippur is around apologizing and repentance.

The purpose of Yom Kippur is to effect individual and collective purification by the practice of forgiveness of the sins of others and by sincere repentance for one’s own sins against God.

Unlike other holidays Yom Kippur is not supposed to be a particularly happy day. It is supposed to be a serious day. A day where you think deeply about the rights and wrongs of the past year, and ask for forgiveness for the people you have wronged (including yourself).

You are supposed to fast on Yom Kippur. This means you are not supposed to eat food or drink water for a little over 24 hours (from Sundown to Sundown). I have fasted on Yom Kippur every year since I was 13. Fasting is refreshing. It provides a break in the flow. In a sort of weird way, I look forward to the challenge. I look forward to exhibiting some amount of discipline. I look forward to the hunger pang. I look forward to wanting to eat but not eating.

Turns out that you do not need to wait for Yom Kippur to fast. There are other fasts in the Jewish religion but regardless of if you are Jewish you can find time to fast once a month or so. If you have never tried it, I would consider it. Beyond hunger fasting, you could also consider not using technology or electronics. Try it for 24 hours (or longer) and I imagine you will be surprised (or not) by the impact it can make on your mental state.

The second reason that apologizing is a relevant topic for me today is that I would say life (over the past 12 months or so) has been particularly challenging for me. Perhaps better put—I have been net down.

Now I am not a victim. I am not asking for pity. From you the reader or from myself. I am saying though that I have had some bumps in the road and have experienced serious volatility in my experience with the world. My emotions have gone up and down to a degree I did not previously think possible. I have felt extremely stressed, sad, and upset to a degree I had never felt before. And my reactions in those moments contained anger. Anger and in a lot of ways a cry for help.

So when I think about apologizing, I think about apologizing to some of the people around me who had to deal with me. They did not have to deal with me, I recognize now, but they chose to. They chose to because they cared about me for whatever reason. And they put up with my emotional volatility. My swings. My misses. My freak outs and times where I had emotional waves pouring over me. My anger and frustration and sadness. When I think about apologizing, I think about how I can apologize to those around me who have gone out of their way to put me first. They went out their way, selflessly, to make sure I was okay.

Even if they did not really help me in a way that I will remember, I will always remember the intention. The intention is actually worth a lot to me.

It did not used to be. I used to not care about the people trying to help me if they did not help. I would say thanks maybe try to be polite but in my heart—my true belief was I do not get it. This is annoying if anything for someone to be getting in my way. Like I get they are trying but that is not my problem. I genuinely did not really care.

I read this now as a relatively cold take. Not sinister but cold. But it was genuine and authentic.

This year, though, my ability to empathize with others has evolved. Evolved because I have felt those waves and rode that rollercoaster. I opened up the castle walls and let things inside. And now…and now I really can see how the person trying feels. Trying and failing but I can actually understand their intention. I can actually understand how they feel. Now I do not need to encourage bad behavior or reward ineffectiveness—but I can at least place myself in those shoes for the first time in basically ever. That is a weird thing. I never used to get it. And there are still many circumstances where I do not get it.

But right now, I am reflecting on how so many times I misplace my own anger where instead I should just be curious. Because the same experience I am having now, where I am finally getting what it takes to put myself in someone else’s shoes to unlock a particular breed of experience, I can actually apply more horizontally into other experiences. I can extrapolate. I can see that this same step function change—the unlocking of new modes of operating, could apply more broadly into all the other areas of interpersonal-ness that I do not currently understand. Understand is not just a cognitive sensation.

Like I got depression cognitively. Like I knew what it meant to be sad. Well I knew the definition. I could write about it. But I did not know the feeling. I did not get it. I did not get the FEELING. I could not respect someone who had it because my default point of view, based on only a cognitive understanding, was an inaccurate judgement. So for me to be able to make the judgement I must account for both the cognitive and feelings based answers. If I just do the cognitive, my model will be wrong because I am not accounting for the safety that people want and need to feel. I have updated my model in this category, but I know there are other places where I am still over and underestimating others. The over and underestimation is my fault. My lens is too big. I am expecting too much of others. Then I get disappointed. And this cycle repeats.

Independence solves this. Rigorous planning solves this. Caring about what is important solves this. Good infrastructure solves this.

So on this Yom Kippur—what I think about is apologizing to those around me, but also apologizing to myself. I have driven myself to the point of near insanity trying to change and trying to evolve and trying to satisfy these weird urges that are not really me but rather influences left by others that are owning real estate in my head. On this Yom Kippur, I want to apologize on a path to freedom. Apologize on a path to saying hey let’s turn the page and do things right. Let’s do things calmly and in control. Can be crazy. But not dramatic. Not inauthentic. Let’s be real and be human.

That is presence.


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