Apologies to those I’ve offended

“‘You are old, Father William,’ the young man said, ‘and your hair is exceedingly white. But yet you continue to stand on your head. Do you think at your age this is right?’”
These words are from “Alice in Wonderland.” I surely qualify as old at 84, and my hair goes with it. But I have never stood on my head in my whole long life (although once I was able to lie flat on my back and touch my toes to the floor behind my head).
Still, as we journey through these Ten Days of Teshuvah, I make the head-banging effort of making things right with those I have wronged during the past year. Our tradition tells us that T’filla – Tzedakah – and Teshuvah may avert the stern decree. The first is easy enough; I’ve been praying since Selichot. The second: I open my pocketbook as widely as I can. But the third is the hardest: there are so many deserving my apologies.
So I’m starting with a group shoutout to all of you who read me weekly: I know I‘ve written things that annoy you, that you don’t agree with or that sometimes (not too frequently, I hope) even offend. So although I cannot say I’m sorry for having written them – because part of a columnist’s calling is the hope that words will stimulate thoughts and reactions, both positive and negative – I do ask forgiveness for any mental discomfort I’ve caused. (Remember: I love to hear from those of you who disagree as well as those who don’t.)
There’s a little Rosh Hashanah ditty that used to be a staple song for Jewish preschoolers. Its words are wonderfully simple: “Let’s be friends and make amends. Now’s the time to say ‘I’m sorry.’ Take my hand and I’ll take yours – Let’s be friends for always.” I’ve always thought we adults can learn a lesson from this, the essence of these 10 penitential days, which — if we’re honest with ourselves — are never enough for all our necessary apologizing.
Myself, I wonder if it’s too late to apologize for errors of all kinds — not just in the past year, but far before that. It seems the older I get, the more my hair turns into that of Father William, the more I remember what I’m truly sorry for. And sometimes, it’s too late to offer a personal “I’m sorry.” But I think that may be part of what Kever Avot is for; when I visit the cemetery as the New Year approaches, I tell my sorry stories to those who no longer walk this earth, hoping that they can hear me anyway and forgive me.
It’s a rule of nature, a law of life: people who actively interact with others make mistakes and need to say they’re sorry. The only way to avoid Teshuvah is to have lived as a hermit for the past year without saying a word to anyone. But that has never been our Jewish way of life. We are a people, each one responsible in a very subtle but very true and vital way for every other. When we give money to our Federations, we’re helping to shoulder that responsibility. Example: Although we can’t personally apologize to every Israeli for our stateside disagreements with their country’s policies, our Tzdakah helps take care of their real, personal needs.
Well, the Ten Days are half gone already, and I still have a lot of apologizing to do, so I’d better get busy telling many other folks what I’m sorry for, and how sorry I am, and how I want to be connected – to hold hands like preschoolers and sing “let’s be friends for always.” I hope my conscience will be clear enough to stand with my congregation on Yom Kippur, as together we can ask God’s forgiveness because we’ve first obtained it from our fellows. May we all live long enough to apologize again next year.

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