Why is it so hard for many of us to shake off the past and begin anew? My Bride often tells me she finds it amazing how easily I forgive myself for my errors. She holds her misgivings about past actions to her breast for eternity. For me, when I forgive myself, I find it much easier to strike off in another direction, one which may, or may not, lead to a better result.
Maybe it has something to do with my background. As an adherent to Judaism, I have always been much taken by the ideas associated with the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah, occurring in the autumn, as determined by the lunar calendar, is one of our major holidays. It is a happy holiday, a time of feasting and family gatherings, celebrating that we managed to get safely through another year. And there are lots of wishes expressed that we might do the same again next year, even marking it in our spiritual birthplace, Jerusalem.
But there is a serious side to the holiday as well. The New Year will be followed closely by the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, when all Jews are assessed and judged as to what their fate will be in the year to come. So, the New Year is a time when all Jews are expected to examine their behaviours and make resolutions that, hopefully, will guide their actions more positively in the coming year.
To do so, one has to search one’s conscience, one has to admit to oneself all those things that we have done wrong, that only we know about. We have to admit to ourselves remorse for our actions that we know have not been correct in the light of our values. Then we have to decide that we will not do those things again. We have to forgive ourselves and resolve to do differently. Indeed, during this season, many individuals go out of their way to visit antagonists and others to whom they may have done wrong to beg pardon for any perceived excesses to which they may have been a party.
So, you can see that I come by my approach rightly. It was imbibed with my mother’s milk. Judaism is not unique in including this concept within its construct. It seems to be an important element within many religious and philosophical approaches as to how humans should live. The key thing to me is that we have to be able to forgive ourselves so that our contrition can motivate actions toward a new start.
I must admit I always feel refreshed when I am in the position of having cast off the constrictions imposed by ideas I have been forced to abandon. Ahead of me lie whole new worlds of possibilities. That old stuff didn’t work. What did I learn? Where can I go from here?
What about that idea that we discarded before as impractical, impossible? Could there be something in it? What about what Joe suggested, which we shouted down? Maybe we should ask him to explain it more fully. Could there be something in it that we missed? He has had good ideas before. What if we put that idea together with the one we had? Could that give us a better result? Anybody who has spent a part of his or her life confronting problems, and problem-solving, in concert with other people, will know that of which I speak.
Don’t we feel better after we have cleared the decks with an old adversary? Now maybe we can make a fresh start and work together to accomplish common goals that we share. Isn’t it great when the difference you have had with your spouse has been resolved and you have returned together to the zone of loving and sharing that you were in danger of losing? Isn’t that more important than things that may have divided you? Aren’t so many long-term relationships built by making new starts over and over again?
The Jewish New Year ethic is a part of how we can live our lives each day. Making a fresh start is what we can do every day we wake up. We all know there are things percolating on the back burner. We may not want to think about some of these things. We may push them off to the back of our minds because of their unpleasantness. But they don’t go away. They are the things we will have to tackle if we want to make a fresh start in some important area of our lives.
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His recently published Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.