On Rosh Hashanah Sunday, someone asked a poignant question. She wondered what to do? Yom Kippur is coming, the holiest of days of atonement, repentance, and she’s not ready to forgive – not at all. Her fear about facing this day without doing what is required reminded me of being a young girl and wondering if God would inscribe me in the symbolic “book of life” and allow me to live another year.
My family was not observant, so I only thought about God occasionally. I figured God didn’t have time to think of me too often, either, which was a relief. Being a little kid, I hadn’t done anything worse than fight with my siblings or steal candy, so I reckoned I’d get to live.
During the high holidays, observant Jews do the difficult psychological work of self-examination and spiritual change: asking for forgiveness, resolving not to repeat mistakes, wiping the slate clean of grudges and resentments to begin a fresh new year. God doesn’t sort out personal relationships; we humans have to do that – to apologize for hurting others, forgiving those who ask – so that we can bear to sit with ourselves in loving awareness meditation without having that body cringe of shame about who we are.
What if we aren’t ready to forgive? Forgiveness can’t be forced. We can have compassion for all the suffering without condoning unforgivable harms. We can have boundaries. It’s OK to protect ourselves from seeing the person who harmed us, even if they’re a family member. We can ask for help, like the questioner on Sunday. And little by little, we leave behind whatever separates us from the joy of our own aliveness. The book of life symbolizes our own aliveness here, the sense of being present and awake. To live is our birthright – to be at home in our lives, to feel worthy and appreciative of the life that has been given to us.