Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘Atonement’

Times, They are a Changing


Usually, after Yom Kippur, which finished at sundown last night, I feel encouraged to go out in the world and do good deeds, fight the good fight, and so on.

This year, I want to go back to bed, eat chocolate, binge on Netflix and cry. I’m in a shitty transition time – it’s not fun, and I’m not fun to be around … I’ve become a bit of a grump.

I don’t think it’s age. I think this is just a shitty time – waiting for a hip replacement, knowing it knocks out long-held dreams and dreading the months of recovery.

So last night, I cooked. I broke all the Jewish dietary laws in one swoop. I made pasta with bacon, onions, peppers, and shrimp, covered in cheese. It was good, even great. Exactly what I needed. I had two helpings and waited for divine retribution. Nothing happened, not even indigestion.

This unholy culinary twitch was triggered by a supposedly innocuous statement by a dental assistant. After balancing a series of pointy sticks on my chest, she asked about the hip replacement. I was trying hard not to cry. Then she started with “God never gives you more than you can handle,” and continued with the equally moronic statement, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

What a crock of shit.

Tell that to the people whose homes have been flooded.

To a couple who lost a baby.

To a person who has been mugged, assaulted, beaten.

Yeah, go ahead and try smothering them with platitudes. See what happens.

These well-wishers dismiss the pain, the existential despair, and suffering of being human and thoughtful. Being a person is difficult – thinking, empathy, feeling, navigating your world and the world of others takes energy and kindness.

So for the new year, I am going to work on kindness – giving more into the world by acknowledging when people, myself included, are in shitty places. I’m not going to deny people their pain. Maybe I’ll make them some pasta.



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.”


“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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