It’s my first day completely alone in months. It took me two hours to clean, do the laundry and make myself some eggplant parmesan for lunch before I could sit down at my desk. My mom is not puttering around any longer, singing softly while mopping the floor or chatting with the dogs as she cooks. The house is really quiet: just the Santa Ana winds, not too strong, rapping at the windows.
I saw her disappear through the crowds at passport control and, the next time I heard her voice, she was having dinner with her sister, in her apartment, the torrid temperatures of Southern California all but left behind. I never said I was sorry. The morning my mother left I got snippy with her: I was trying to concentrate at my laptop and she kept yapping away from the rocking chair in my office, harping on the same thing over and over, until I lifted my head and curtly told her she needed to leave me be for 10 minutes. At which she got up, without complaining, and migrated to the kitchen, where I heard her picking up the phone to call her sister. No, she did not complain about me. She never does, even when I deserve it.
As I write this, in the solitude and quiet of my house, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar is unfolding: the new year has begun, the shofar has announced it and Jews all over are supposed to fast and atone for the sins committed during the year that has just passed. As an extremely secular person, I pick and choose from rituals I am attracted to, or that hold a special meaning, and I find atoning in private more appealing than kneeling in a confessional. And, as my faith in a higher being is stretched thin, to the point of non-existence, I have created my personal ritual of reflection on all the slights and acts of unkindness that stand out in my memory.
Humans, and their interactions, are marked by imperfection although, in the Jewish faith, using imperfection as an excuse won’t get you far: it’s important we remedy our wrongs, or, at the very least, ask for forgiveness of those we hurt. Because of course we are imperfect, and, while striving for perfection is a lost cause, striving for kindness is not.
But being kind where forbearance and empathy can be displayed is easier – it makes us feel self-righteous at worst or just better individuals at best. Being kind when no one is looking, or even in our thoughts, is a lot tougher.
I came home from dinner last night thinking that one of the guests had put on a lot of weight, and another was wearing the most ridiculous outfit. I even nearly voiced my thoughts to my husband. And then I stopped: were a couple of love handles spilling out of jeans or a silly hat offensive in any way? Why did I care if not out of catty-ness? Shame on me. These were kind people I was belittling in my head, if not close friends. Did any of that make a difference to my life? Of course not. And yet, we judge without mercy: passersby, celebrities, friends and family, casual acquaintances. Little nods to our misplaced superiority.
I called my mother this morning and I apologized. She waived it all away, preferring to keep on chatting about the news from home, the friends she had already spoken to, the bipolar cousin who is on the mend. Exactly the same way I react when someone apologizes to me – I minimize, pretending I am above the hurt and we can all move on now. But recognizing a wrong, whether committed by us or offered as an apology by others, is part of the process to accept our imperfections and learn to work around them.
What was that quote from “Love Story?” Love means never having to say you are sorry. I beg to differ. Just because a partner or a family member or a friend has known our quirks for a very long time doesn’t absolve us from taking responsibility for our unkindness.
“Sorry” does not hold the power to extricate us from every dicey situation we created for ourselves but it can go an awfully long way.