A few weeks ago a wrote a post called PTSD: Damaged Goods. I had just come out of a tempestuous relationship and was feeling lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut, to quote “Side Meat” in the cowboy band Riders in the Sky.
Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. One fasts from both food and water for 26 hours, and if you go to synagogue, you pray a lot. In mine, here in Jerusalem, you pray A LOT. Meaning, we started at 6:30 AM and finished up after 6 PM, without a break, standing most of the time. Our congregation sings most of the liturgy, so we sang almost all day, and danced a lot.
Wait a minute: singing and dancing while fasting on the Day of Atonement, the awe-filled day when one’s fate for the coming year is supposed to be sealed? Who will live, who will die, who in their proper time, who prematurely, who by fire, who by water, who by wild beasts, who by earthquake…it gets very specific. And yet here we are, singing and dancing. We are rejoicing, because on that Day we have the chance to truly change our lives for the better. We are working hard at the task of bringing light into the world and into our own lives.
I started seeing things very differently during the course of the day. Inserted into each of five sections of prayer is a confession, or viduy, that lists many types of errors we may have committed, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and after listing those transgressions, we ask forgiveness from out Maker and that our transgressions should be erased as if they were never committed.
Somehow in there, I started to see how the relationship I recently left had brought out characteristics that exist in me that I find repulsive, unpleasant, and just plain wrong. I don’t like those things in myself. But you know what? If I hadn’t been in that relationship, I would never have seen those aspects of myself that I want to change. They were lurking in there in my character the whole time. I just didn’t have access to the stimulus that would bring them out. The fact that those characteristics are present in the other person in a magnified, almost caricatured form, and it was a shock to me, while reciting the Viduy, to see those trait in…none other than Yours Truly!
Things like having a garbage mouth, not being careful about how I speak to others, being haughty and arrogant, being boastful, saying bad things about other people behind their back, and other things I’d rather not go into. I don’t like these traits in myself, and my former but no longer Beloved brought these out into the light so that I could see them.
Rebbe Nachman of Braslav teaches that if you see a negative trait in someone else, it’s because you yourself harbor that trait and the other person is a messenger to help you see it so you can fix it.
Having said all that about things I don’t like about myself and want to fix, I’m going to take a huge leap here and say that I’m very happy with who I am. I’m happy that I have the capacity and the willingness to take a good long hard look at my own character, and be honest about admitting that I have some work to do.
We are not created perfect, for the simple reason (according to Jewish thought) that we are here to strive for perfection in this life, and if we were already perfect, what would we be here for?
On the other hand, if we are doing a good job of striving, then we are carrying out our purpose here on the planet perfectly.
So I am feeling perfectly imperfect just as I am, as I am working toward perfecting my imperfections, and that’s pretty darn good, for me.