Oh, the Humanities! #7

Adriene Goodwin

I went to a wedding this weekend, and I heard some beautiful insight on how to help a young, new marriage prosper.

“Don’t let the rage get to you,” he said. It’s okay to be angry, “but there’s a difference,” he clarified, “between being angry and needing to be right.”

The small, intimate celebration of love was soon followed by family loss, unbeknownst to its participants at the time. I’m not a religious person, but I guess I consider myself somewhat spiritual as I often try to find some solace in every direction, and, after all the spinning, I stop and look inward. So when I’m centered and still, what is it that centers me? The lessons that I carry with me from stories, and the comfort I receive from hands that reach out from within those fables.

This Tuesday evening marks the holiday of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement that follows 10 days after Rosh Hashanah. I’m not Jewish, but a large part of my life has been inspired and sustained by Jewish teachings and Jewish values, and I find my heart pulled toward something whenever the high holy days roll back around.

Today I’m fixated on what was said at the wedding. “Don’t let the rage get to you.” Don’t get so mad that it festers and becomes impossible to apologize. We can see on a national scale the festering, boiling rage that’s souring friendships and testings faiths in this election. Co-workers spew hatred towards one another on social media. Children block parents on Facebook when their rants shift from frustration to manic contempt. Have we reached a point where we’ve forgotten what it means to atone, to admit fault and repent?

In order to atone, one first has to admit something wrong was done. That’s square one. Jonah and the Whale is a tale often read during Yom Kippur. Jonah not only neglects carrying out a task commanded by G-d, he runs away from it. His attempts to escape take him so far that he ends up in the belly of a whale (or a fish, depending on your preferred version. Let’s save literal interpretation for another time). He can’t run anymore. He can’t reject what’s happening anymore. He can only sit. And wait. And think.

So he thinks. And in his solace, his thoughts become sentiments of sorrow and regret. The storm that brought forth the whale may have been caused by the domino effect of pissing off G-d. Or it might have been a situational, ironic end of defeat. But Jonah has to confront the consequences of his actions as well as what he must do to move forward.

Rabbi Amy Perlin wrote of Jonah, “Sometimes we are Jonah. We run, we are swallowed up and we are spit out. We have times when the responsibility of the world is thrust upon our shoulders, and we have times when we feel very much alone. Sometimes, just like Jonah, we feel that life is too much for us.”

The inevitability of fate can make us run. But when there’s nowhere else to run, we get swallowed up, consumed. All I can really say is this: we can’t spend our time running away or being swallowed up by rage. We have to face one another—your lover, neighbor, father or stranger—and ask one another for forgiveness. We are in a union together, bound together; in order for us to grow, we have to sustain one another. Sometimes, we are sustained by the most sincere apologies, and regret can nurture redemption and renew what might be broken.