New Year thoughts

As is typical at the end of the year, I’ve read/ watched/ heard a lot this week about “starting fresh” in 2014 – and at other, more important, life-markers. This is the first year that I have noticed the theme of forgiveness as a January 1 ritual – in a TV interview with a psychologist and in several pieces I read on the Internet. I don’t subscribe to the theory that a Yom Kippur-style cleansing is needed to go from one calendar year to the next, so I’ll try to dispense with that notion and then go on to my own transition from ’13 to ’14.

I used to take the “forgiveness” theme of Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement) to heart because I thought it was important to have a chance to start fresh, without the burdens I used to carry around in guilt and grudges. A couple of long-ago times, I was distraught when things I did professionally hurt other people, in one case a career-altering hurt that resulted when I could not stop publication of something I had set up long before. That Yom Kippur I sought counsel of a trusted Jewish adviser (now our rabbi, David Shneyer), who helped me deal with my feelings when the person I hurt would not forgive me. Reb David helped me see that I had the power to forgive myself, and I transformed that teaching into a year-round habit I’ve developed – moving on from bad experiences and starting fresh.

In the second instance, again something I published hurt someone I admired and worked closely with. This time I used the cleansing ritual of self-forgiveness a few weeks after I discovered the hurt. When Yom Kippur came the following Fall, looking to give meaning to the Day of Atonement, I found a new annual ritual: soul-searching to make sure I have forgiven others as well as myself. Over the years this business of letting go of guilt and grudges has become a year-long way of life, and now I find I don’t have as much work to do as Yom Kippur approaches. Sometimes I even take the holiday off!!

What I learned from the psychologist interviewed on one of the cable TV shows I watch while working out on the elliptical machine on Tuesday was a new meaning of “forgiveness.” She said that to truly forgive someone, the forgiver must accept the forgivee as s/he is. Not only that, but you have to do your best to do that without judgment so that your act can become true acceptance instead of blame. The next step is to decide whether that person has a place in your life, and if  so, to devise a strategy for avoiding falling back into the grudge that prompted your attempt at forgiveness in the first place.

I’ve had a lot of opportunity over the last 20 months to practice putting these patterns of guilt and grudge aside. We’ve been focused on matters of life and death, surviving and letting go. We are – more than ever – aware of the temporary nature of our existence, and I am determined to make the most of every minute with the people I love – every member of our conjoined family, our odd but cherished assortment of close friends who continue to enrich our lives. It means I let a lot of “stuff” roll without confrontation – a trait of mine that I know frustrates some of the folks I count among the “people I love.”

So, as we creep into this new year 2014, I’ll be looking for other ways to mark time. I don’t much like that I was presented with the first marker on New Year’s Day with the death of my cherished cousin Ann Jacobson. I don’t know if she ever made New Year’s resolutions, but I’m certain she didn’t pay much attention (if any) to the In/Out lists that have appeared in recent decades. She had much more important things to concentrate on, even near the end of her 80-some-odd-year life.

I won’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year – why set myself up for regrets? Instead I’ll be thinking about ways to make life better – for myself, my loved ones, and other people. In Ann’s memory I’ll try to focus more on the third leg of that stool – “other people.” It’s how she lived her life. No matter how long I live and how much I succeed, I know I’ll never catch up with her – but I can always try!