At sunset this evening Yom Kippur begins, the holiest day of the Jewish year. It’s 24 hours of fasting and introspection, and asking forgiveness from our creator.
… and from each other: “For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones,” the New Union Prayer Book reads, “but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.”
That’s the part about Judaism that makes it tough to practice sometimes. It’s easy to ask God for forgiveness; unless a bolt of lightning says otherwise, it’s probably accepted. But having to individually ask humans is much harder, and humbling.
It’s not a wholly owned franchise of Judaism. During the height of the Catholic church sex abuse scandal, I sat, reporters’ notebook in hand, in the pews of Boston’s cathedral as the embattled Bernard Cardinal Law gave his homily one Sunday, protesters picketing outside. Some ventured into the church when, for reasons of his own if not of Catholic liturgy, Law stated the above concept of forgiveness among fellow humans.
One abuse victim — in fact, one of the most vociferous — perked up to listen, and at the sermon’s conclusion, got into the line for the Eucharist. Other protesters joined him. Suddenly, the cleric to whom most of their anger was directed was giving them the host. Law recognized them and said to each “Pray for me,” and they did. “Walls came down,” abuse victim Steve Lynch said afterward.
True, the truce lasted barely a day and could never erase the victims’ lifelong suffering, but it was nonetheless moving, serene.
Transgressions demanding atonement need not be as serious as having enabled child molestation, and lest we forget our lesser sins, the prayer book enumerates many. “We are arrogant, brutal, careless, destructive, egocentric, false, greedy” — all the way to “xenophobic, yielding to temptation, zealots for bad causes … our sins are an alphabet of woe.”
And if not in actions, then in words, intentional or not.
That last one embarrassingly hits home. After a taping of DNTV not long ago, I left the microphone on while giving editing instructions to Jimmy Bellamy, our multimedia editor. “No, no. Don’t ever do it that way. You have to do it like this…” and so on. The words weren’t very strong, but the tone was, I learned, when playing back the accidental recording.
Jimmy is thick-skinned and can take it, but not so everyone. In another editing job several years earlier, I was surprised to learn a proofreader had quit because, I was told, “She said you swore at her every week.”
“Whaa?” I wondered — until I realized that my weekly greeting (“What the blank is this blank?”) when she would deliver the publisher’s editorial to me had been interpreted personally. Of course I knew what it was, and I intended the remark as a commentary about the publisher, not her. But I failed to let her in on the joke.
Then there are times when this curmudgeonly editor has unambiguously let loose a stream of invective. Apologies to all within earshot.
Sins of words are not limited to those spoken, and I know what I write here carries the power to tear down as much as to uplift. Journalism, I often say, is the one profession where you know someone’s going to have a bad day before that person does. But regardless of whatever my subjects did or didn’t do, if the way I told it was careless or caused pain, I humbly apologize. Even to those who I think should know better: “It was satire!” I cry out when someone misses my point. No matter; they were hurt nonetheless. I am sorry.
And those, of course, are the easy ones. The rest are too personal or painful for public discussion.
“For all that was done
For all that was not done
Let there be no forgetfulness before the Throne of Glory
Let there be remembrance within the human heart.”