How Forgiveness is Like Acceptance: A Yom Kippur Reflection

"Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur" 1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb

Note: This is a guest post by my very talented and gifted writer friend, Janine Dunmyre. She has graciously given me permission to publish her beautiful work here.

I didn’t expect it to happen. I have low expections these days when it comes to anything Eva. I took the kids to Little Minyan for Kol Nidre. Bought them some new clothes and shoes. Warned Eva. Since that’s usually her stomping grounds. Although Scarlett asked her once, “Is is ok if Mama takes us to services at Little Minyan sometimes too?” Like I said, I went with low expectations.

Everyone recognized my kids so I was forced to introduce myself: Their Other Mom. Jessica, the sort of rabbi, who was once my friend but defriended me on FB and was the “spiritual leader” of Eva and Amy’s wedding, she gave me a half hearted wave. Then services began. Luckily I remembered to medicate Zeke because he stayed beside me the whole time, and I really needed that. We discovered little pieces of paper (for notes?) in the pew in front of us, and he spent the entire time doing origami. I showed him how to make a frog. Eva and Amy appeared about five minutes after everything got started. They sat behind me where Georgia and Scarlett had already established themselves, having made sure with me that they could escape if they got bored. When Stella saw them, she left me to go curl up in her ema’s lap.

I have to admit: I am petty. I decided right before services (and even made a point to TELL God) that even though I know I should pray for the ability to forgive Amy, forget it, I’m never forgiving her. Especially if she never acknowledges she did anything wrong to me. And Eva refuses to forgive me. And now I can’t forgive her for not forgiving me, and, yes, it’s an endless circle of rat poison. (Anne Lamott says: Not forgiving someone is like eating the rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.) That was my state of mind pre-Kol Nidre. Nope. No Way. Hardened Heart. Not Gonna Do It.

There was this super long piano and cello solo. Beautiful and all. But c’mon. Really? And we had to stand for the whole thing. I was like, WHAT is the point of making us stand for twenty minutes? Even though I quickly answered myself – I know, I know, to make us focus. And perhaps to make us really sorry. Really really sorry. But sheesh. I finally gave Zeke permission to sit. With his origami frogs. I made the connection later, but it was on the last note, the very last strung out cello note, the denoument, the final settling of the song that my heart softened the teentsiest bit. I felt it at the time but wasn’t aware of the impact to come: A crack where the light came in. I thought, Well at least that last note made standing the whole time sort of worth it. Ok, we got to finally sit down for a minute. But then they had a kid open the ark and stand with the torah for the eternity of reading the community Kol Nidre.

Back to more standing. For most of this reading, I worried about the kid. It was a back and forth, call and response thing. Sometimes readers happened in the congregation, quite spontaneously, but the last reading was done together. It built us up to forgiving “vows we could not keep.” That’s when I started to pay attention. Vows. We. Could. Not. Keep. And then the last paragraph, it hit me. We are standing only a few feet away from each other, reading out loud a prayer for forgiveness and for the ability to forgive. And I know Eva. Better than anyone. We attended services togther for twelve years. I know she is reading out loud too. And together we are reading out loud in a sacred space with a minyan of Jews. And perhaps even beginning a new set of vows. And, of course, I started to cry. Because I always fucking cry. When we sat down, I put my arm around our son, the reason this all matters.

A friend tells me: Forgiveness isn’t easy. Hearing people say things out loud in front of a congregation, that they need forgiveness, when I believe that YES…YOU NEED TO ASK FORGIVENESS FOR THIS YOU PRICK…is powerful. And the person saying it knows that I know that I need to forgive and be forgiven. And then, I start, a little, to forgive. Some things can never truly be forgiven, but like with all mitzvot, the more I practice the “easier” it becomes. A deep sigh. I realize forgiveness is more like acceptance. Never warm and fuzzy. It all started with my acceptance of my obligation (to take our kids to this service) and moved to ACCEPTANCE and then God nudges us in the right direction: Stop swallowing the rat poison.

We left not too long after. Stella complaining that she needed to go to bed. And I was a little less angry than when I arrived.
Copyright © 2012. Janine Dunmyre. All rights reserved.


“Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in…”

-from Anthem, by Leonard Cohen


This entry was posted on Thursday, September 27th, 2012 at 1:47 pm and is filed under Acceptance, Anne Lamott, Co-parenting, Divorce, Forgiveness, Two moms, Yom Kippur. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. scott says:

    thank you …

    ... on July September 27th, 2012
  2. Jill says:

    Very nice.

    ... on July September 27th, 2012
  3. Dawn says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

    ... on July September 27th, 2012
  4. Carol says:

    As always, tears and a light more light coming in…

    ... on July September 27th, 2012

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