This Yom Kippur, I regret looking at what doesn't work, and I'm learning to focus on the positive.
In the story of creation, the Almighty commands that the earth bring forth fruit trees bearing fruit. If you read the words carefully, the implication is that the tree itself should be fruit; its bark should be edible. Yet we all know this isn’t what happened. We don’t eat the trunk of the tree. What happened here? How could the trees “disobey”?
My husband suggests that this teaches us about the inherent imperfection of the material world. By its very nature the physical world is flawed; it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Which, in turn, suggests that there’s something wrong with our expectations…
Sometimes I catch myself saying “that would have been a perfect day if only…that child hadn’t thrown a tantrum, that child hadn’t whined for more attention, that restaurant hadn’t been so noisy, that parent had been more grateful, that cake hadn’t been so dry (and so many calories on top of it!), the house wasn’t such a mess…” Use your imagination, fill in the blank.
Not only is this a destructive pattern of thinking but it is just plain wrong. The physical world IS flawed – there are no perfect days or perfect experiences (although there can be a lot of pretty good ones!). And that’s okay. As long as we adjust our expectations appropriately. Not low, but realistic.
Do you ever notice that as soon as you have succeeded in resolving an issue with one child, something crops up with another one? Rare is the moment when you can just sit back. And that’s okay too. That’s our job as parents. As long as we don’t expect to sit back.
Sometimes we have that moment – when we drive that new car off the lot or give our walls a fresh coat of paint – where our material possessions seem to actually be in an idyllic state. But we know it won’t last. And the desire to preserve its pristine condition will drive everyone around us crazy. It’s almost necessary to get that first scratch in the car, those first crayon marks on the walls so that we can breathe a sign of relief and return to “normal” life.
Because we really do recognize that perfection is unavailable in this finite world of ours.
I can still remember (and it’s over 30 years ago now) when my LSAT results came in the mail (yes, the very old-fashioned way). I wanted to wait for the perfect day before I opened the envelope so that if the results were disappointing, I could bear it better. But I soon realized that day would never come and just ripped open the envelope.
I seem to have forgotten that lesson over the years. I continue to not only fantasize about but actually expect the perfect day, thereby setting myself up for frustration and disappointment. Needless to say, this is not a healthy emotional pattern!
So that’s what I’m working on this Yom Kippur. That’s what I’m regretting and trying to change. I want to let go of all the time spent focusing on what didn’t work (Just a word in my defense – I’m focused on deeper issues than broken bowls or chipped paint) and spend more time enjoying what did. I need to tune out the unpleasant undertones and only “hear” the positive. I need to be a little less sensitive, a little less perceptive, a little less focused on the emotions of others. I frequently find that while I am worrying about someone’s emotional state, they have long ago left the problematic issue behind!
If we take our children out for a day of fun and games and special treats and all they talk about is how hot they were, we feel frustrated and unappreciated. I am trying to imagine how the Almighty must feel when I treat His kindness to me in the same way, when it’s never enough, when there’s always something missing. I’m pounding my chest at the thought.
This year, I’ll be reaching only for the joy. I’ll be focused only on the opportunity of repentance and return and not on my hunger, my exhaustion, how I can’t wait to brush my teeth, how hot the synagogue is…