To Forgive, or Notes on Elul
“Forgive? Sounds good. Forget? I’m not sure I could. They say time heals everything, but I’m still waiting.” — The Dixie Chicks
I sat at services on Saturday morning next to my friend Rachelle as the rabbi began to deliver her sermon. “This is the month of Elul, of love,” she said. “As we approach the High Holy Days, this is the time to open ourselves up and this is the time to forgive, although we are afraid to because we are protecting our hearts.”
It was words that my mind let pass into the day as I continued along with my busy LA life. But then Tuesday, it hit again in the form of a message.
The sender was a guy I went out with almost two years ago, back when I was still living in Thousand Oaks after the divorce. We had coffee, had dinner, had a good time filled with honest conversation… and then he proceeded to never call me again. It became awkward as I came back to Los Angeles and found out that not only does he go to the temple that I like to go to, but he also tried to get me to have sex with him on several occasions. Brushing him off, I kept going, but now here was this message asking me, in light of the upcoming Jewish holidays, to forgive him for his horrible past behavior in the hope of becoming real friends.
It made me pause. If I have learned anything from my past relationships and friendships with men, it’s that it is a rare occurrence that they apologize for nasty behavior. It’s a matter of pride, and to ease my way with many of them, I have always had to say the first sorry. A man who can find the strength to apologize for his misdeeds is the strongest man of them all, and is worthy not only of respect, but admiration and love.
Yet through this guy’s nice, flowery words, I didn’t trust him in my gut. His behavior over the past two years did not make me want to admit him into my inner circle. How did I know where his motivations were? I was well aware that he had crushes on several of my friends, so having him on my good side would be advantageous to him. In my mind, the sense of being more of a turnkey was overpowering, compared to the idea that I was someone he actually wanted to develop a human relationship with.
The rest of the day, through my work and other goings-on, I kept coming back to the note, to that notion of forgiveness. I remembered that afternoon with him in his bedroom, his ear against my chest. As I let him lie there, my heart beating faster because I hadn’t let anyone that close for a long time, I thought about a different boy. No matter whose bed I laid in, he seemed to follow me, and my mind to this day has been unable to shake him.
He was one of my best friends, my road trip partner and the person who knew my darkest secrets. After my divorce he was my brightest hope even while being the embodiment of my fears, and the only one who could break my heart — which he did very successfully. Over two years later, he has never apologized and I have not forgiven him.
The concept of letting anyone else that deep into my inner world again was nothing more than a fantasy. Until that day when I let this other guy’s ear against my chest. It was the first glimmer that maybe, just maybe, I could be close to someone again without fear of them hurting me and that even someone as messed up as I was could be loved and cherished. That didn’t go according to plan either. The hurt didn’t come until later when he saw me as just a way to get laid fast.
Since last February, I watched myself dramatically change. With my mom’s illness and my financial stresses of building a business, every bad thing that happened dredged up memories of the past, sometimes in relief but mainly in regret and stress. Emotionally, I was far from ready for what the universe was bringing to my table, and swallowing it, I could feel myself choking.
Even though there were people reaching out to me in the darkness, my trust began to dwindle and city living was making me hard around the edges. As I rose to take the stage in comedy, my skin got thicker and it deflected the pain, but only for minutes at a time. Although I had my friends and loved them, the idea of letting them into my struggles was abhorrent to me. I feared them yelling at me, telling me all the horrible things about myself that I kept telling myself already, and then abandoning me to wallow by myself. So I hid, and the pain drove me to the brink of insanity.
Then, over a month ago, I saw that boy who broke my heart at a party. His voice was slightly tinged with desperation as he called out for my attention, but I had no words left for him. I embraced him, allowing myself to feel the beauty of his body against mine, and walked away. I wouldn’t let him get close again.
Later that evening, he would approach my friend Bryce to talk to her. She was the only one who I pointed him out to, so of course she would report to me later. “He was really nice,” she said.
Those simple words gave me pause. I had forgotten that about him. My memory kept the horrible things about the past between us: Him calling me selfish and drama, pushing at me when I was so weak after the divorce. The cruelty of a boy who didn’t remember what it was like to go through hard times, and would rather be cruel and throw me away than to deal with whatever was going on in his head. And how I wasn’t the only one who he did that to.
But I forgot about the boy who, whenever I called or asked to talk to him, would always pick up the phone or call me back within two hours. Who knew my most intimate secrets and somehow gave me back my voice. His beautiful deep baritone voice that was so quiet and calm, yet could cut through any fear or doubt in my head. Who made me laugh and brought out my silly side to make him grin. Who was ethical and brilliant, debating me in fun and without malice. And whose murky brown eyes would relax when he looked at me, as his body leaned in and his head cocked to one side, a soft unforced smile gracing his face; it was a smile that seemed to be reserved only for me.
It was the pain of my past that was causing me not to forgive, because forgiveness means letting it all go. It also means throwing aside the same pride that the one who is seeking the forgiveness does. Often it’s harder because we are tearing scabs off of wounds and making them fresh again for the person who sliced us open, causing even more hurt in order to heal. I want to forgive, but can I?
As Elul falls away and we come into the Jewish New Year, I’m not sure if there are any answers for me. My fingers pause as the cursor blinks in front of me for that guy who sent the message. What words do I have for this man who is seeking my forgiveness? Do I really have anything left inside of me that is soft and malleable after everything, that can defrost my heart and trust someone despite the wrongs? Can I accept that he is only human and forgive, and can one day I let go wholeheartedly?
I may not know the solutions, but I know where to start, and I put my fingers to the keys.