Monday, October 02, 2006


As last year and the year before, I've taken Yom Kippur off from work -- not to go to temple, but to spend some time in the wilderness of myself, and come to terms with the year's past.

I head off midmorning, towards the waterfall and the dam, through a neighborhood silent in the workday sun. Across the street the cows graze behind the fence; over my head, this year's wild grapevines hang low with fruit, ripe purple globes entwined among maple branches red-gold with the season.

I ford the stream to pick my place, find a flatter spot under the trees just that side of the spillthrough, where the rushing water and the mottled light on the newly carpeted forest floor provide a place for peace and reflection. I set up my chair, and reread last year's meditation, my own private Vidui, for strength and context:
We are guilty, O Lord
of pride in a job well done,
even when it comes at the expense of others.

We are guilty of playing to our strengths...

I take the pen and paper in my hand, try to clear my mind as blank as the pages before me. A chipmunk scurries across the rocks by my feet; the wind stirs a jay from his nest nearby. Clouds move past the sun. The river flows ever forward.

And then, nothing.

A year ago yesterday we spent our first night here, in a house not yet a home, but already a promise of newness and survival after months on the road, the four of us evicted wanderers, jobless and worried, our lives and safety at the mercy of friends and family. The convenience of the time frame encapsulates the year nicely, like a well-wrapped present.

But atonement was easier when everything was new, and the world was suddenly no longer all wrong. It's easier to make amends when the future looks so bright and the past is so rootless. Examining the heart in the midst of a new beginning is to natural as to go without saying.

This year's underpinnings are more subtle, more private: a still-unexplained illness, a growing discomfort with the way our nested lives have grown static under our feet and all around us.

I have so much to atone for this year. But I fear I was easier to forgive -- both for others, and for myself -- when we were coming off that year of homelessness and hope.

Too, here -- at the base of the dam's far side, where high rocks hide the floodwaters -- it is hard to feel authentic about anything, really. The things I should atone for are so much more subtle, so tangled in a life of place and purpose, that they seem impossible to isolate, let alone explore, like fat, dark grapes hidden behind the bright turning leaves.

If I could wish for a better context, some light to illuminate my faults -- some Godblown wind to clear the trees of my heart of these obscuring leaves -- I would.

But atonement postponed is atonement unrealized, and I am blessed to be part of a religion that mandates such reflection. The time is ripe, though I may not see the fruit; it is better to offer these grapes, however hidden from my view, than to miss the moment, and pass through the liminal still unwritten in the book of life.

So, as last year, and the years before:
For all those offended, regardless of intent or personal gain, I offer my sincere apology. You deserve better; I love you more than I may have said, and I apologize.

Even if you never noticed my lapses, or I never noticed, or we shared the experience without the name; even if I made you happy, and it was not as much as I could have: I could do better by you.

In this time of self-exploration, or recommitment, of sorrow and yearning for betterment, I commit myself to you, and your betterment, and ask that you hold me to it.

May we be blessed enough to be inscribed in the book of life for another year together, side by side. And may we be honored, one day in the long distant future, to see those inscriptions, and smile, and remember each other fondly, and have more fondness to remember than we could ever have pain.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:29 PM |

This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing...your words contain an honesty that is both harsh and loving. Isn't that Yom Kippur, after all? L'shana tova.
When I feel down I go for a ride in the country to think thing though. I find it very peaceful. I spend alot of time at Horicon Marsh here in Wisconsin. I like to become one with nature.
I've been lurking here quite a long time, but this post made me want to come out from hiding to say thank you. It's hauntingly beautiful.
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