Tonight marks the start of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and most somber day of the Jewish year, a day meant to be spent fasting and repenting for the previous year’s sins. In the exact opposite of that spirit, I would like to share an irreverent poem I wrote about repentance 15 years ago in a poetry circle with my children:
ATONEMENT FOR ALL
The Catholics go in weekly
to seek forgiveness for each deed.
They confess each sin, bow meekly,
do penance as their priest decreed.
The Baptists seek more salvation:
“Praise the Lord” louder, “Christ is great.”
One born-again exclamation
wipes clean a lifetime’s whole sin slate!
The Buddhists urge a strength of mind,
an inner path to living pure.
Avoiding sin means being kind;
confession just is not a cure.
The Jews have got a special spin
on the matter of redemption:
We set aside one day to win
a mea-culpa exemption.
On Yom Kippur we fast all day,
a swap for falling short all year.
Give God our regrets, then we pray
to get the once-a-year “all-clear.”
If we’re sorry, God sets in stone
our names in the Book of Life.
Then it’s a year til we atone
for the next twelve months of strife.
I need relief from Jewish guilt,
so I like that we make amends.
But even contrite to the hilt …
one day seems not enough to spend.
So I propose a medley:
a forgiveness potpourri:
When you’re wrong, admit to it fast
When others are failing, be kind.
Don’t wait all year for God’s die to cast:
Atone as you go for true peace of mind.
I hope that didn’t offend anybody, but I am discovering there is no way to be a writer without taking that risk – so what I really hope is that it made some of you laugh.
Regarding my own Yom Kippur, I will not be spending the day atoning. My son is dead, so if I believed in a punishing God, which happily I do not, I would expect I’ve already received the worst punishment I could have been dealt for whatever sins I may have committed. More to the point, I have spent the entire past year praying and reflecting on the suffering I have caused myself and others, so I think I’m covered for the day.
Instead, I am enjoying a blessing beyond measure. Dear friends have loaned me the use of their bright and beautiful home in Cape Neddick, Maine, and I am here for two weeks putting together a book-length collection of my (more serious) poetry for submission.
Renee was with me for a romantic getaway the first couple of days and is coming back to share another whirlwind mini-holiday with me Sunday-Monday, and at the end of my stay here I am thrilled that Jamie will be flying out from Portland for a mother-daughter writing retreat with me here during the holiday formerly known as Columbus Day weekend. But mostly I am here on my own.
When my friends first generously offered me the use of their home while they were traveling, it was because I was grieving and in need of time alone to mourn. But that was many months ago, and something about building myself up for the one-year mark has helped me turn a corner. So instead of mourning (or rather, in addition, as mourning is part of my forever now, like breathing), I am here writing, reading, revising, compiling, doing yoga, dancing, eating, circling poetry book contests in Poets & Writer’s Magazine, and playing with pastels on the lawn overlooking the ocean. I am blessed. God is good. And I am glad to be here. If I have anything to atone for, it’s for all the days I’ve failed to be this fully alive.
Yom Tov, everybody – which means, “have a good holy day.”