After Atonement

embarrassed-chimpanzee_tim-davisHow do you feel the day after the Day of Atonement?

I want to feel purified and healed, but I don’t.

Instead, I feel that a process has just begun.

One line of the liturgy plays inside me, over and over again.

God, in Your Presence, I feel totally embarrassed and confused. 

Just before Yom Kippur I dreamed:

On Main Street, the city has allowed little open-air shops to do business between the buildings. I go into one shop that sells trinkets and fashion accessories. An elderly gentleman customer says this is a shop for trans people like him. A younger woman customer buys a costume for her pet seagull, who is about to leave her care and re-join his seagull flock. Soon, Chas and I are driving to Granville Island with some friends, but traffic is very slow-moving. We see the costumed seagull walking between cars. We see people we know on the sidewalk, and pick them up, though they are too many to fit in our car.

A shop for trans people, indeed.

What a classic case of dreamtime wordplay!

Main Street is in transition. So are the elderly gentleman, the younger woman, and the seagull.

I am in transit. So are my husband, our friends, and everyone we pick up.

But there’s too much traffic and the progress…is…so….slow.

And, with all the passengers I’m carrying, I’m not sure in what direction I should be heading.

God, in Your Presence, I feel totally embarrassed and confused.

Just before Yom Kippur, our family of four sat down to a very early dinner. We shared New Year’s resolutions. Most were practical: better health, more productivity, more focus, success at school. Too practical for me, in fact, so I added one more: “I want to understand my thoughts and feelings better so I can be happier.”

Me too, said everyone.

God, in Your Presence, I feel totally embarrassed and confused.

That evening, at Erev Yom Kippur services, Rabbi Louis Sutker presented a simple teaching on how to apologize. Simple and inspirational. After the service, people walked around, apologizing to one another.

Looking around the room, I saw two people to whom I had hoped to apologize. One approached me, apologizing first. The other reached for my hand, and told me how much she appreciated me.

Each of us had a sense that something was missing between us. Perhaps the needed exchange was neither  apology nor appreciation. Perhaps we did not really know what it was. But Yom Kippur gave us a social form and we took the opportunity.

God, in Your Presence, I feel totally embarrassed and confused. 

Yom Kippur came to its logical and emotional conclusion.

Tired as I was, I could not sleep. Simple words from the prayerbook — God, save us from plague — haunted me. I thought of families in Africa, wiped out by Ebola, and about the slowly recovering survivors who said, “When my baby got sick, I picked her up anyway.” “Of course I held and comforted my mother; she was my mother.” People knew the risks, and they took them anyway. For love and duty and the best of human instinct. If I were a grandmother, and my grandchild was ill, would I step in as caretaker to protect my own child?

For forty years I fasted on Yom Kippur, but now I cannot. My body systems are too fragile. What would be my fate if I became seriously ill? I do not know.

God, in Your Presence, I feel totally embarrassed and confused.

I feel a great yearning for your comfort, God.

And I seek it in strange ways.

Through hugs, love, family and friendship. Through food.

By driving and ferrying to  beautiful islands. By escaping into dreams. By buying trinkets and fashion accessories.

And you know, that feels so trivial and misguided.

But I’m in transition, from one day to the next, and I don’t know how else to travel.


  1. Oh Laura, I too felt (and feel) burdened by unfinished business at the end of Yom Kippur. There are apologies left unsaid, apologies I am still afraid to make.

    It’s been said so often that it’s a cliche. The only constant is change. Everything is in transition.

    I believe that the most powerful way to connect with God is to notice the trip, to create detours along the way that increase our likelihood of moving in directions consistent with God’s love for all of creation. But it is hard. So that even being mindful of the journey serves as a direction in which to transition.

    1. Thanks, Leora, for the reminder that unfulfilled seeking is still meaningful seeking! – Laura

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