Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘Atonement’

Use Your Words

pad-black-and-white Innocently enough, a friend asked if I wanted to hear some bluegrass music. My response was, “Bad bluegrass sounds like a cat being run over by a lawn mower.”

“My, aren’t you the princess of snark?” the friend said.

At which point, I took offense. Snatching my coffee, I moved to another area of the coffee shop.

“Hey, am I the princess of snark?”

People looked down at the stained cement floor, out the caffeine fogged windows, and picked their nails. I narrowed my eyes waiting.

“Okay, when did I become the princess of snark?” I asked.

“I’m not saying you are or anything but it probably happened over the last ten years.”

“Ten years. What the fuck happened at least ten years ago?”

Wrangling with that question kept me at odds with the world until I realized, I stopped using my words after my husband died.

Using words started out as the way I lived an interfaith marriage. The ethics and sweetness of my Jewish heritage, taken for granted at times but overall ingrained, in bone, twirled through my molecules, needed the practice of atonement during New Year, the period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.

Each Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Rod had little interest in attending services or fasting. Feeling ambivalent about services at synagogue – a double helix of ritualistic pleasure and dyslexic fumbling – we started another tradition.

Every Yom Kippur night, we would go to a special dinner. Order good food and a bottle of wine. Sitting with paper and pens, we would make our individual lists of Nasty Habits and Bad Deeds. Fearfully, we would pass them to each other. Overtime we learned to withhold the little passive-aggressive comments such as,

“I didn’t know you were capable of that much insight,”

“Usually you swim with the minnows in the shallow waters,” or my favorite –

“My haven’t you been busy … duplicitous … mean … manipulative … “

We started to delight in each other’s growth. We made commitments to change one thing. We atoned into nicer, more thoughtful people.

At a point I can’t remember, other people started turning up.

“When’s Yom Kippur this year?”

“But you’re not Jewish.”

“Yes but I want to atone.”

“Really?”

“Yes. It was a bad year.”

“Must have been.”

So friends joined us, wrote their lists, passed around the papers, keeping a flat face when our fears, gossip, and theories were confirmed. To the table, we committed to changing a facet of ourselves feeling vulnerable but connected by our communal confession. Rod would smile and nod. I would sit in wonder. The lists go back to 1987.

When he died, I stopped writing the words that kept me connected to community, kept me honest, held me accountable, and made me go deeper into my humanity. My Russian peasant fatalism had needed to be tempered with Rod’s kinder humanism. I had become the princess of snark.

That is the power of writing. Life can wear us down but writing keeps us honest. It calls bullshit. Words and the process of writing lead us by the hand from the shallows down to the grotesquely beautiful abyss of the self.

So ya’ll, write shit down. All the unacceptable stuff. Everything you want to hide and disown. Find someone or create a small tribe to write with and listen to your words.

Tonight I am going out to hear bluegrass with friends. Friday, Yom Kippur, I write my way into a kinder, gentler princess of snark.

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