I converted to Judaism over 20 years ago, so when my brother continues to get the holidays confused, he’s just joking.
Every Passover, he calls and says, “This is my favorite time of year! Let’s hear all the mistakes you’ve made, in alphabetical order, and then I’ll decide to forgive you or not.”
“No,” I say, “that’s Yom Kippur.”
“Talk to you in six months.”
And he hangs up.
Yom Kippur is our Day of Atonement, when we abstain from all food and drink and atone for our sins. We spend the Days of Awe, the time leading up to Yom Kippur, in contemplation of the good, the bad and the ugly in our lives. Jews, and those who want to be like Jews but can’t part with their foreskin or bacon, consider the past year and the ways to make the next one better. On Yom Kippur, we traditionally pray and ask God to forgive us.
I’m still up in the air about “God,” so I throw out a general “I didn’t mean it, I was kidding” to the universe.
So here we almost are, when those closest to me get excited because I take the Days of Awe seriously. I sincerely apologize to those with whom I’m close and care about. (Too bad, Donald Trump.)
I don’t purposely wait a year to say I’m sorry. How awful would that be? And time-consuming. Once I realize I’ve hurt someone I care about, which happens from time to time, I say I’m sorry right away. But sometimes I goof that up, offer explanations that come off as excuses and make matters worse.
Apologies before Yom Kippur are different. We don’t offer rationalizations or reasonings. We shut off our brain for a moment and speak from the heart. Here’s how:
Don’t mention that we forgive them, too, unless they ask. Haughty isn’t hot.
Make eye contact.
Speak in general but meaningful terms. There’s no need to mention that awful thing we said back in August. An apology should have happened when we originally messed up. Nobody likes reliving past mistakes except my Irish cousins—and they can wait until St. Patrick’s Day for their time in the sun. Before Yom Kippur, we cover the stuff no one mentions.
That’s right. We don’t always know each and every time we make a mistake. That’s why a “sorry speech” is necessary.
Don’t apologize to the planet. Make it special. Make it count. Pick people who matter—people for whom we’d put away our phone for at least a half hour.
Repent for things we said or didn’t say and deeds we did or didn’t do. We say that.
Say it. Let’s not text or email. Neither comes with a tone of voice, and tone is important. We call or, if we’re lucky, look across the dinner table and look the person in the eye.
Shed a tear or two. Hurting others is painful and so is admitting it.
Don’t say “I apologize.” We’re not some Walmart clerk dealing with customers angry that the 79-cent French fries are really 99 cents and made mostly of flour and something called dextrin. We’re talking to someone we love. We say “I’m sorry.”
Give a kiss at the end—or a hug. If you’re me, pretend you didn’t hear your brother respond with “ditto” because you’ll just say something you’re convinced is funny and bam, you already have something to apologize for next year. Pace yourself—there are twelve months to go.
Before we ask a higher power to forgive us, we forgive each other. That’s what this time of year is all about. The people I apologize to, I also forgive. It’s kind of beautiful… and why hasn’t Barbra Streisand written a song about it?
After we’ve faced ourselves and our loved ones, we’re ready to starve on the big day, pray or meditate a little and ask the universe or God to pardon us.
I’m sorry if any of this was offensive.
See what I did there? Have an easy fast.
Author: Katie Durkin
Editor: Evan Yerburgh