Yesterday, I began one of the harder parts of my process of teshuva (repentance). In Judaism, Hashem can only forgive those offenses that are against Him, not the mistakes we make that are against our fellow human beings and many people spend some time before the High Holidays seeking out those they may have wronged to apologise and ask forgiveness. This is a humbling experience, but on the bright side, we’re also not supposed to hold grudges against each other, either. Since most of the people I still interact with in Alaska are not Jewish, this means that most of the people I feel I need to apologize to aren’t really bound by that rule, though.
I decided to begin with a friend that I’ve grown apart from. Our friendship ended on a sour note that really had little to do with her and more to do with issues related to her ex husband. I won’t go into details, but it wasn’t that dramatic. It was just enough for us to have a disagreement and grow apart and nothing that would make even halfway exciting reality tv. Still, looking back, I can see where I definitely could have handled it all better. I think the friendship still probably would have ended or faded, but I could have been a better friend while that process completed itself and I only learned after her divorce how much she could have used a good friend right then. I definitely have regrets.
And so, since I only have her email address now, I sat down at my computer to write to her, to express those regrets and apologize for not being there for her.
The letter began easily enough, the opening and then the first few words, then, it was like I began an argument with my own yetzer hara (evil inclination) as she tried to suggest edits to my letter. I would type a sentence, expressing an apology and suddenly a thought would pop up of “Well, yeah, but do you remember when she said this?! Surely you can’t send this off without adding that.” I’d sigh and take a deep breath, ignoring it. It doesn’t really matter what she said, this letter is about what I could have done differently. It’s not about asking her for an apology. Then, another line would go by and again, that small voice, “This letter makes it sound like everything was your fault! You know that isn’t true.” Another deep breath and I’d remember the point of the letter, which was to apologise for my part, not criticize hers.
This continued on and I began to have other thoughts as well. Would she laugh at me as she read this, seeing me as foolish? Would she share this with our mutual friends and would they laugh at me? Was I making things worse by reminding her of what had happened between us? Dozens of excuses not to click send rose to my mind. Did this mitzvah even apply to non-Jews or did I only need to make amends with Jewish friends and family? What if she knew what time of year it was for me and didn’t think my letter was sincere because it is Elul?
I sat for a moment, my finger paused on my mouse button, staring at send.
Then I clicked it.
Ultimately, all those questions and voices were what got me into this mess to begin with. It was that kind of advice that had caused me to react with hurt and distance in our friendship when what she’d really needed was someone to see past the surface to what she was going through and be a better friend. I’d failed in that and while I could use whatever I wanted to justify that failure, it still meant that I hadn’t lived up to being the person and friend I want to be. If I want to be that person and friend moving forward, then I had to send that letter to mend me as much as her, to fix what was broken in me that had led me to behave the way I did.
After I clicked send, I sat back from my keyboard. That voice still wasn’t silent and I wondered if she would even read it. I closed my eyes and realized that really, that was her business. She didn’t have to read it if she didn’t want to and that was ok. What was important was that I had written it and sent it, that I had reached out in the only way I had left to reach out to her and I had allowed myself to be vulnerable. I had opened up to her in a way that I’d failed to do months ago and I’d shared my regret with her.
I breathed deeply and felt myself letting go of that regret. I’d sifted through it enough to find the jewels within it, the lessons to take with me into this coming new year and now it was time to let go of it and let it scatter to the winds, like breadcrumbs onto a river. After a bit, I sat up, and I remembered the fun she and I had together, our kids playing together and I smiled, those memories no longer stinging the way they had.
And I told my Yetzer Hara that she’s fired as my editor.