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Jewish Journal

Atonement

by Maya Paley

September 25, 2012 | 1:03 pm

This may sound self-centered, but the main person I need to ask for forgiveness from over this past year is me. Now hold on a minute, allow me to explain.

I have a tendency to be way too hard on myself. I expect to achieve everything right away, to do so well, and to get it all done at the same time. I am angry with myself when I cannot make it all happen. I have guilt about the goals I did not accomplish, the people I did not help, the friends I did not call, and the family I did not spend enough time with. When I’m not feeling guilty about the past, I have anxiety about trying to do it all in the future. Does this sound familiar to any of you?

Over the past year I’ve thought a lot about how much I envy my grandmother. She is 86 years old and she knows she’s had a satisfying life. She traveled all over the world, fell in love, spent her life with her soul mate, had three healthy children and six grandchildren, and she’s still healthy and independent. If I were her, I would feel free.
While driving myself to LAX a month or so ago, “The Logical Song” by Supertramp came on the radio at 4 am. I’ve been obsessively listening to it on repeat every day since then:

“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully, watching me.
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.”

I haven’t been living an adult life for all that long, but I’m already exhausted. How did my parents and grandparents do this? Supertramp is so right: Growing up and becoming a responsible human being makes you cynical. At least for me, adulthood has added weight to my responsibility to help other human beings and to be a dependable friend, daughter, sister, employee, activist, etc.

While it’s good to strive to be the best I can be, it’s also burdensome. I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way. The more we learn, the more we know how many appalling things are happening in this world, both internationally and locally, and how our own actions perpetuate and exacerbate many atrocities, like child labor in sweatshops and gruesome regional wars over oil reserves. Yet I’m still buying new clothes and I’m still driving around LA.

Can I live with myself for the rest of my life knowing that I am contributing to a societal structure that abuses, murders, exploits, and excludes innocent people?

I like to glorify my childhood and think of it as a playful, easy time in my life, and I like to glorify getting older and not having to worry about the future anymore. But the truth is that childhood was not easy. Kids made fun of each other, friends dumped each other, and it was impossible to fit in. Old(er) age is not easy either. It’s much harder to maintain your health and your physical capacity wanes. And I imagine you have just as much anxiety about your future as you do when you’re in your early adulthood. 

So I’m asking myself for forgiveness. I’m asking myself to take a deep breath, remember that I am doing the best I can, and remind myself that everything is always going to be okay and that it is impossible to fix everything in this world. The most I can do is talk about issues, write about issues, and advocate for change. The bottom line: I may be cynical and have anxiety and guilt issues, but it’s made me a better person and it’s made me grateful for the life and privileges I have. I forgive myself for being the way I am. I hope you can forgive yourselves, too (if that’s what you need to do).

What are your thoughts on atonement and your personal goals for the coming year?

Shana tova, g’mar chatimah tova, and may you have a wonderful, fulfilling, and positive year!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Maya Paley is Director of Legislative and Community Engagement at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles. The programs she works on include the annual Jewish...

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