As the Jewish New Year rolls around, an old man's fancy turns to atonement and repentance. So I have started thinking about life and my connection to other people. I have been lucky. I AM lucky. I am surrounded by people who generally pretty OK and I have lived a life interacting with a class of people which humbles me.
With a couple of exceptions.
And that's the thing. If I can recognize that in my many (many) years, there are a couple of people who still make me seethe (and not a calf in its mother's milk), and I cannot forgive them, then how can I enter the next year with a blank slate?
Rosh Hashana, the new year, is about starting over. It is about cleansing ourselves of the stuff from past years that drags us down. We ask forgiveness and we give it. We move on. But I can't. In these very isolated cases, I cannot find it in my heart to forgive. Maybe that's petty of me, but some hurts are so profound and so formative that I cannot move past them. [At this point, I was considering making occluded comments which described the three or so people on my list -- not enough that anyone would know who, but enough that I would think that maybe someone knew. I have decided not to give any details.] How do I look at myself and my life as recharged and refreshed if I can't let go of past damage?
And to make it worse, Shakespeare gangs up against me and has Portia try to manipulate Shylock, asking "How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?" If I am not willing to extend that branch of peace, then how can I expect God, in his mercy, to have any mercy on me and forgive me for all I have done wrong?
Maybe my out is that they never asked me for forgiveness so I am not bound to forgive, unsolicited. But that doesn't sit well with me. In Hebrew, we ask for (and give) "mechila" and we have prayers in which we say that we give mechila to all those who have sinned against us. So haven't I already given mechila and shouldn't I just move on? Does this mean that my prayers are insincere? This keeps getting worse and worse.
I think that, for me, the answer lies in not equating forgiveness and mechila. The word mechila seems to have to do with erasing something -- blotting it out, and maybe, that much I can do. If I write on a paper with a pencil and make a mistake (it wouldn't happen, but just s'pose) and then erase it, the paper might be clear of that mistake but it is never pristine again. I can erase the action of hurt but not the phantom pain and residual effect of the event. I can give mechila and still not forgive what was done to me and the effect it had on me. Maybe I should be asking to be able to forget and that will obviate any need to forgive -- I won't remember so I won't resent. I will think that who I am is just who I am, not as the result of anything in (painfully)) particular. Maybe I can't forgive because that demands that I view myself as whole again and that's not how I ever expect to see myself.
So as is appropriate for this time of year, I whole-heartedly grant mechila to all those who have done things which have hurt me (take that, Portia), whether or not they ask, and forgiveness to all those whose behaviors I can rise above and feel complete even in the face of such hurt. I sincerely ask for mechila from all and forgiveness from those who feel able to grant it to (and forgetfulness from those who can't).
Maybe after another year of work, I will be more able to make peace with myself and therefore forgive those few who are still on my naughty list. I will do my best.
L'shana tova -- have a happy New Year.