By Cintra Pollack
The realization came on a stunningly lovely Sukkot afternoon on a Moraga golf course. I’d just smacked a golf ball straight and long. It wasn’t my shot that pleased me, though there is an undeniable satisfaction when the golf ball flies off the club just right; it was my revelation pertaining to the Yom Kippur that had just passed. I turned to Alex, a former coworker/sometime golf coach/always mentor and fellow Jew and exclaimed in joy, “I didn’t have to forgive Jack this year!”
Even though I do not attend synagogue on any regular basis, I do spend a lot of effort reflecting and atoning during the High Holidays. Engaging in the process of forgiving and being forgiven on an annual basis is a tradition I always observe. It’s an important component of my Jewish identity.
But back to my former coworker Jack . . . on multiple Kol Nidres, I found myself wrestling with anger towards him. He had demeaned me, behaved arrogantly towards me, and had been extremely patronizing. Suffice to say, his acidic comments made me cry on more than one occasion (which I did as any professional woman would: subtly, in my own office, while pretending to build spreadsheets). Each year I would pledge to just get over it, and the next year I’d find myself in a familiar seething state.
Last year, though, the anger had lifted. The change came partly from my professional development. I had proven myself a competent analyst and once I had made Jack money, he was much more respectful to me. More likely, though, the shift came because I changed jobs and I no longer worked under him. I daresay that by Yom Kippur last year there were aspects of Jack I missed and admired such as his dry humor and his ability to do complex equations in his head during meetings. I also noticed what a great coach he was of his daughter’s basketball team. What a relief it was not to have had to forgive him and instead to see some good in him!
It felt like failure to forgive the same things over and over. It was even harder to absolve myself of my own repeat offenses. I may have been able to finally forgive Jack by limiting my contact with him, but what could I do about myself?
Self-forgiveness was then and still is the hardest for me, as I imagine it is for many. The person I was, the person I am and the person I aim to be are never quite together at one place at one time. It’s a work in progress every year. But that struggle is one of the greatest privileges the High Holidays offer.
I used to live near a place that often had witty aphorisms and pithy thoughts on a sign out front. One such saying stuck with me in particular: “It’s hard to fall when you are on your knees.” The process of atoning during the High Holidays reminds me how glad I am that Judaism presents me with more ways to repent than falling to my knees. In Judaism, during prayer, we stand up, we sit down, we move forward and backwards. We use our voices and our hands as we beat our chests and of course, our ears and eyes. When we ask others for forgiveness, we physically go to them. To live life on one's knees may be a method not to sin, but it is not a dynamic way to engage the world or to repent.
We transgress, we progress, and we possibly regress, but we are not static. There is a risk we will misstep and we may fall. We know we may end up in the same place next year, but we also have the possibility of getting there via a different path. Better yet, perhaps next year we will find ourselves somewhere new, somewhere better.
Cintra hails from Denver, Colorado where she is an investment manager by day and a (wannabe) chef by night. When she's not doing either of these things, she may be found hiking, writing, rowing, reading, golfing, knitting, practicing yoga, or indulging her cat.