Will You Forgive Me?

 

The other day I had breakfast with a dear Jewish friend. We were discussing the month of Elul, the month that includes the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. She told me about a time as a child when she told her father she couldn’t think of anyone she had harmed (which is part of Jewish practice at this time of year). Her father looked at her sternly and simply said, “You aren’t perfect. Think about it.”

In Judaism we must ask those we have harmed for forgiveness before we ask G-d to forgive us. Suddenly I realized that I also had given cursory thought to those I might have harmed—and no one initially came to mind. But at breakfast with my friend, family, friends, even Ricochet friends started to appear in my thoughts: a person I had corrected because I felt they’d done something inappropriate; another had done something foolish and I gave her a piece of my mind. The list went on. I realized I had my work cut out for me!

So I made it my mission to learn everything I could about forgiving: what was the precise time to do it, what were the correct steps, what was significant enough to ask for forgiveness. What if a person had done something that I believed was wrong! Then I wondered what would happen if a person refused to forgive me; if that person got angry at me for even asking. Finally I said to myself, “STOP!” I suddenly realized that all these mind games were just steps for avoiding the true meaning of forgiveness and simply taking action. I understood that fear and anxiety were driving my ruminations.

I remembered a situation about 25 years ago when I asked my mother for forgiveness. She wasn’t an easy woman, and I was a difficult daughter in my treatment of her. Then (and I don’t know if this was around Yom Kippur), I realized I had to let go of all my grievances toward my mother. She had done her best. I had held on to a dream of the perfect mother, which she simply couldn’t fulfill; no one could. It was time to acknowledge my hurtful behavior toward her over the years, acknowledge my love for her, and ask for her forgiveness.

I was terrified of taking this step. I decided to write my confession and appeal for forgiveness in a letter, so that she would not be caught off guard and she would have time to think about my request. I sent the letter and told her I would call her. Those three days were agonizing: I assumed that she would rage at me and refuse to forgive me. When I finally called her, she said, “Sue, it’s okay. I knew we’d work it out someday.” I was stunned, relieved and tearful as we talked about our thorny relationship. It was then that the healing began and love was renewed.

In recalling this story, I remembered that the meaning of forgiveness is teshuvah. Although it is sometimes translated as “forgiveness,” my Torah study partner reminded me that the word actually means “turning around,” or “turning toward.” When G-d knows that we are willing to own up to our unkind words and behavior, to make amends, ask for forgiveness and heal a relationship, we draw closer to G-d. Our spiteful actions separate us from others, and therefore separate us from G-d. When we can let go of our need to be right, to be superior, to be powerful, freedom and gratitude arise. And G-d can then forgive us.

The month of Elul encompasses much deeper meaning than I’ve expressed here; I am still a novice at learning the meaning, rituals and observance of these sacred Jewish holidays. Yet I continue to be incredibly blessed by those who support me on this journey. Hat tip to @frontseatcat for encouraging me to write more about this holy time of year.

There are 54 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Susan Quinn: She had done her best. I had held on to a dream of the perfect mother, which she simply couldn’t fulfill; no one could.

    Oh Susan . . . So poignantly true and how beautiful that passages of harmony and love opened so that closure could be had.

    • #1
  2. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Susan.

    • #2
  3. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I can’t imagine that you’ve ever offended anyone!

    Your mom is lucky to have you. :)

    • #3
  4. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Wow – that was powerful. I felt convicted reading it because I saw myself in that post too. Then just last night a conversation with my sister about my niece and nephew, who have a very strained relationship with their dad who is angry all the time. Maybe a forgiveness letter? Not sure. I want to print this out and keep it because I certainly need a daily reminder. Speaking of, the friend that I went off on that I posted about the gender bathrooms then politics etc. – even though I apologized, she has been all but reluctant to communicate – it’s not closed, but barely open. You made peace with saying your mom gave what she could – I guess sometimes we have to accept that and move on.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Trink:

    Susan Quinn: She had done her best. I had held on to a dream of the perfect mother, which she simply couldn’t fulfill; no one could.

    Oh Susan . . . So poignantly true and how beautiful that passages of harmony and love opened so that closure could be had.

    Thanks, Trink. My mom has since passed away, but it made the last 20 years sweet and funny. She still got on my nerves at times, but we laughed a lot together. And my Dad, before he passed away, told me how happy he was to see that we had made things right. So it was good all around.

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MarciN:I can’t imagine that you’ve ever offended anyone!

    Your mom is lucky to have you. ?

    Oh, trust me, Marci! That’s what I thought, but you should see me in action! But I’m learning, as we all must, if we treasure our relationships, that we must act as if we do. At least after we’ve behaved badly.

    • #6
  7. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Really lovely.

    As a person whose personality rubs quite a few people the wrong way, Elul is always a challenge. It drives me nuts that people get offended when I do not mean it – but the damage is still done, and I still need to always keep trying to contain/reverse the impacts of my words and deeds.

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    iWe:Really lovely.

    As a person whose personality rubs quite a few people the wrong way, Elul is always a challenge. It drives me nuts that people get offended when I do not mean it – but the damage is still done, and I still need to always keep trying to contain/reverse the impacts of my words and deeds.

    Thanks, iWe. If they could just see into your heart!

    • #8
  9. James Madison Member
    James Madison
    @JamesMadison

    Asking those we have harmed is very good practice.

    There was TV show called Earl a few years back premised on the theme of redemption by asking those he had harmed (OK, he was an ex-con and con-man who had swindled many, lied to many and hurt many – especially old girl friends) for forgiveness by first telling them he was sorry and wanted to make it up to them. The show then descended into the antics and missteps of a well intended, oafish guy trying make things better.

    So, have you considered compensation? Few expect it, even fewer would take it. But, would kind of compensation is due for our harmful behavior? We expect those who harm us will compensate us? Why would we ask forgiveness from those we harmed without offering amends.

    Oh, one other point, . . . Who is this person who rubs people the wrong way? I have never seen that person. Being direct or outspoken is an attribute – it’s called being honest and caring. My most critical boss made me much better, faster. And man did I love having him chew me out! I was becoming so good at what I did. ;-)

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Madison:Asking those we have harmed is very good practice.

    There was TV show called Earl a few years back premised on the theme of redemption by asking those he had harmed (OK, he was an ex-con and con-man who had swindled many, lied to many and hurt many – especially old girl friends) for forgiveness by first telling them he was sorry and wanted to make it up to them. The show then descended into the antics and missteps of a well intended, oafish guy trying make things better.

    So, have you considered compensation? Few expect it, even fewer would take it. But, would kind of compensation is due for our harmful behavior? We expect those who harm us will compensate us? Why would we ask forgiveness from those we harmed without offering amends.

    Oh, one other point, . . . Who is this person who rubs people the wrong way? I have never seen that person. Being direct or outspoken is an attribute – it’s called being honest and caring. My most critical boss made me much better, faster. And man did I love having him chew me out! I was becoming so good at what I did. ?

    Great response, Jim. Thank you. So I assume your questions aren’t rhetorical and I’m delighted to respond even if they are!

    I think if you have harmed a person in a way that could be compensated, we should, e.g., an action that cost him/her money or if we damaged something, we can try to replace it. But Judaism says (as I understand it) that we also have to try to modify our behavior so we don’t keep causing the same harm over and over again. I think over time I’ve learned to behave better, so there’s hope!

    Let me give you an awkward example of my own behavior. I know a man who is a bigot. He would probably say he’s not one, but he is. He thinks he is clever in not using the “N” word by referring to blacks as “Canadians.” It is clearly a slur. I finally called him on it and I was really angry. (I should have brought it up much earlier.) I think it was appropriate to say that I’d like him to not use the term, but the manner in which I did it was clearly intended to hurt him. He has stopped using the term, so I got the result I wanted, but I could have done it differently. Your thoughts?

    • #10
  11. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    James Madison:Asking those we have harmed is very good practice…

    So, have you considered compensation? Few expect it, even fewer would take it. But, what kind of compensation is due for our harmful behavior?…Why would we ask forgiveness from those we harmed without offering amends?

    Transaction costs are not nothing, and it’s possible that sometimes the process of arranging compensation can be more costly to both parties (not just the one making the amends) than seems worth it.

    That said, there are some weighty matters where offering compensation even before you’re willing to be forgiven might help. When I volunteered to arrange my father’s memorial service, I hadn’t yet forgiven him, nor had I asked his forgiveness, for my having still resented him in some ways – and now that he was dead, I couldn’t ask, at least not in this life.

    My father was something of a misotheist, so even praying to God on behalf of my father was just something I couldn’t get myself to do at the time. But I could take a load off my mother’s hands and arrange a beautiful, respectful, and affordable memorial service for my father. So I did that.

    In having fulfilled the role of the loving daughter, I figured I might, someday in the future, return to being the loving daughter, and that seems to have been happening. I will never again idolize my father as I did when I was a child, and before major disillusionment set in, but having paid my respects insincerely but thoroughly at first has left a door open that might have been shut otherwise.

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: In having fulfilled the role of the loving daughter, I figured I might, someday in the future, return to being the loving daughter, and that seems to have been happening. I will never again idolize my father as I did when I was a child, and before major disillusionment set in, but having paid my respects insincerely but thoroughly at first has left a door open that might have been shut otherwise.

    In my humble opinion, you were paying your respects to your mother, and not so much insincerely to your father. That had to be so precious to her, especially because you were there to help with the many difficult parts of the memorial service arrangements, and you were there by her side. What a gift! Sometimes we are called to do things that we may see in a certain light at the time, but we grow to see it differently as we grow. All kinds of things can enter when a door is left open. Thanks for sharing, Midge.

    • #12
  13. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Susan Quinn: In my humble opinion, you were paying your respects to your mother, and not so much insincerely to your father.

    Quite possibly! But at the time it did seem like organizing the formal respects to my father was a handy way of ensuring that, on the day of his memorial service, I’d be too concerned with the minutiae of what was happening when to reflect upon his passing in a way that might embarrass myself or upset my family – as if I wasn’t peace with him enough to know what to do with myself if organizing everything hadn’t given me a script to follow nearly every minute of that day (and I’m not by nature a routinely organized person).

    I wasn’t the one giving the eulogy, so that was the one time that day I was free to simply listen and reflect. It was an incredibly interesting eulogy, with stories about my father he himself had never told us. A lot to think about. But I was also grateful for permission to stop reflecting and get back to the script as soon as it was over! In a way, I was being selfish. My volunteering to make the arrangements had more to do with me and my private emotional state than was really seemly. But I also exploited that selfishness for others’ benefit. Funny how that works.

    • #13
  14. James Madison Member
    James Madison
    @JamesMadison

    Susan Quinn:

    we also have to try to modify our behavior so we don’t keep causing the same harm over and over again. I think over time I’ve learned to behave better, so there’s hope!

    Let me give you an awkward example of my own behavior. I know a man who is a bigot. He would probably say he’s not one, but he is. He thinks he is clever in not using the “N” word by referring to blacks as “Canadians.” It is clearly a slur. I finally called him on it and I was really angry. (I should have brought it up much earlier.) I think it was appropriate to say that I’d like him to not use the term, but the manner in which I did it was clearly intended to hurt him. He has stopped using the term, so I got the result I wanted, but I could have done it differently. Your thoughts?

    Well, tactics vary. But the point was worth making. And I will mark you down for Attorney General and not for Secretary of State if you feel uncomfortable with your approach. But we are who we are and you were right to call him on it, and apologize later if you made him feel bad.

    Meanwhile – that modifying behavior thingy is pretty neat – might have to try that…

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: A lot to think about. But I was also grateful for permission to stop reflecting and get back to the script as soon as it was over! In a way, I was being selfish. My volunteering to make the arrangements had more to do with me and my private emotional state than was really seemly. But I also exploited that selfishness for others’ benefit. Funny how that works.

    Whatever you did and the reasons you did them, you figured out how to be helpful to your mother and present to her; I doubt that she would have expected more of you. I asked my Torah study teacher today whether we were called to forgive ourselves, as well as ask the forgiveness of others. She said, “absolutely.” Otherwise we were not acknowledging the beauty of G’d’s creation, the creation of each one of us. To honor his creation of us, who are clearly special in G-d’s eyes, we must forgive ourselves. I also personally believe that if I am hard on myself, I create separation: separation between myself and others, and between myself and G-d. When I respect that I am doing as well as I can, and also feel deep gratitude for what life does offer me, I narrow those separations.

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Madison:

    I could have done it differently. Your thoughts?

    Well, tactics vary. But the point was worth making. And I will mark you down for Attorney General and not for Secretary of State if you feel uncomfortable with your approach.

    Don’t you dare!!!! For either one! You must be trying to make my life a living hell! I’ll settle for being a decent wife, friend and teacher! ;-)

    • #16
  17. Chuck Enfield Coolidge
    Chuck Enfield
    @ChuckEnfield

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: In a way, I was being selfish. My volunteering to make the arrangements had more to do with me and my private emotional state than was really seemly. But I also exploited that selfishness for others’ benefit. Funny how that works.

    I haven’t thought about this before, but I’m much more likely to make amends than to seek forgiveness. In many cases making amends is the easy way out. Asking forgiveness, sincerely anyway, would require me to admit I did something wrong. Making amends can be more like a business transaction. I need not acknowledge that I did something wrong to make amends. It’s sufficient that the benefits to me of making amends outweigh the costs. I have made amends to for the purpose of maintaining a valued relationship in cases where I didn’t think I was wrong. I’m willing to bet nearly everybody in a long marriage has.

    That making amends can be a selfish thing to do doesn’t make it bad. The recipient also benefits from both the amends and, presumably, the relationship. But it is often much easier, and definitely less valuable from a personal growth perspective, than is seeking forgiveness.

    • #17
  18. Chuck Enfield Coolidge
    Chuck Enfield
    @ChuckEnfield

    Thanks, Susan, for providing good material for reflection.

    • #18
  19. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Susan Quinn: …She told me about a time as a child when she told her father she couldn’t think of anyone she had harmed (which is part of Jewish practice at this time of year). Her father looked at her sternly and simply said, “You aren’t perfect. Think about it.”

    In Judaism we must ask those we have harmed for forgiveness before we ask G-d to forgive us.

    What does it mean to be ‘not perfect’?

    Do you need to be forgiven to get to heaven?

    Do you need to be perfected to get to heaven?

    • #19
  20. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Here is something which has happened to me on several occasions. Someone (often from my distant past) will get in touch and ask my forgiveness for some injury done to me by that person.

    The problem? I have completely forgotten the incident. No memory. None.

    Yet someone has gone to the trouble of finding me to ask forgiveness for something which obviously has bothered them for years. I never know quite what to say. ”

    Don’t worry about it.” Nope. They have been worrying about it.

    “Forget it.” (Certainly have.) “I forgive you.” That is the most obvious reply, and one I give, but I feel uncomfortable saying it. How can I truly forgive something I have no memory of? Or maybe by forgetting about the incident I have, in a sense, already forgiven it. Certainly I have gotten past it. I do not remember it.

    Most of the time I say something to the effect that I forgave it long ago. What I never do is tell them I have forgotten about it. Somehow I believe that would be the most hurtful thing I could say.

    Seawriter

    • #20
  21. michael johnson Inactive
    michael johnson
    @michaeljohnson

    Note:

    From the Ricochet Code of Conduct: "Imagine you’re a guest at a dinner party with a group of seemingly nice people you don’t know… how would you handle yourself?"

    this is just guilt by technology. [redacted] There are a lot of things in the Bible that recommend doing things in private….don’t pray on street corners…don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing…I don’t recall any scripture or verse that encourages one to go on social media and agonize about how hard it is to adhere to old traditions. [redacted]

    • #21
  22. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Chuck Enfield:Asking forgiveness, sincerely anyway, would require me to admit I did something wrong. Making amends can be more like a business transaction. I need not acknowledge that I did something wrong to make amends. It’s sufficient that the benefits to me of making amends outweigh the costs. I have made amends to for the purpose of maintaining a valued relationship in cases where I didn’t think I was wrong. I’m willing to bet nearly everybody in a long marriage has.

    That making amends can be a selfish thing to do doesn’t make it bad. The recipient also benefits from both the amends and, presumably, the relationship. But it is often much easier, and definitely less valuable from a personal growth perspective, than is seeking forgiveness.

    I can see what you mean. I can also see how, in situations where asking for forgiveness would be dishonest – gaslighting oneself, essentially – making amends instead could be a way of restoring harmony while maintaining healthy boundaries and resisting emotional blackmail and guilt-tripping.

    • #22
  23. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    Micheal Johnson: your comment was totally uncalled for. I can understand why Susan did what she did; I have been on and off Ricochet for several years, and the good news is, I am (I think :) much calmer and more level headed than I used to be. The bad news is, I either cannot remember things I said years ago, or I kind of remember what I said but don’t remember who I said it to, or vica versa. A blanket apology to all is a good idea, and Susan is very brave to do it. She wrote a beautiful post; your comment seems like, well, trolling.

    • #23
  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    michael johnson:this is just guilt by technology. [redacted] There are a lot of things in the Bible that recommend doing things in private….don’t pray on street corners…don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing…I don’t recall any scripture or verse that encourages one to go on social media and agonize about how hard it is to adhere to old traditions. [redacted]

    (Puts on Moderator hat) Mr Johnson, that’s out of line.

    Remember the CoC admonishes us to assume good faith of our fellow members. By what right are you assuming Susan – or anyone on this thread – is “bellyaching” out of mere pretense, and by what right do you violate the CoC by telling someone to “stfu”?

    • #24
  25. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Lovely, Susan! I’m with @marcin. I can’t imagine you offending anyone. My daughter and I went through a brief rocky time when she was 16 (they tell me that’s common). But now she’s 21 and we have a wonderful relationship. Like you, she wrote me apologizing for her awful behavior. I can tell you as a mom, your mother really appreciated that letter.

    • #25
  26. doulalady Member
    doulalady
    @doulalady

    After years of treading water in so many women’s organizations because so much time is wasted trying not to give offence for imaginary future possible slights, I realized that we women worship too much at the church of perpetual offence.

    In these meetings power was so often granted to those people who were willing to claim and cling to their being offended. Particularly the feminists, who like to keep their wounds fresh by rubbing salt into them publicly and at every possible opportunity.

    Then I remembered my Father who in the cut and thrust of British politics would head off to the bar with his political enemies who had just been attacking him in the ugliest ways, while my mother went home to weep over offence not taken.

    I decided right then and there never to take offence again, nor to pander to the tendency of too many otherwise intelligent women to waste endless amounts of energy doing so. Because in the end if someone did not mean to offend they will fear being honest with us to our detriment, and if someone wishes to give offence we only feed the beast.

    • #26
  27. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    After what you did to me? No. Never.

    Oh, wait. That wasn’t you. That was the other one.

    Oh, now….

    Can you forgive me?

    • #27
  28. KC Mulville Inactive
    KC Mulville
    @KCMulville

    Forgiveness is the essence of religion, with gratitude close behind. Thanks, Susan, for a lovely reflection.

    • #28
  29. mjwsatx Inactive
    mjwsatx
    @mjwsatx

    A beautiful post Susan. Thanks for sharing. If you haven’t seen the PragerU on forgiveness you should check it out. Shana tovah um’tukah.

    • #29
  30. Mr. Conservative Inactive
    Mr. Conservative
    @mrconservative

    Susan, your story is a beautiful illustration of how we should look for wrongs (not microaggressions) we have done to others and do our best to make things right–on a horozonal level, person to person. But on a vertical level (man to G-d), how do we ever make up for our offenses (egregious in both quantity and quality) against Him? Does that kind of atonement not require the shedding of blood via a sacrifice? “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” Leviticus‬ ‭17:11‬ ‭And who is this person described in Isaiah 53 who is wounded for our transgressions and “by whose stripes we are healed?”

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.