With Yom Kippur fast approaching, thoughts of becoming a better person, of teshuva (repentance), flash across the minds of even the most cynical among us. The critical question always seems to be the same: How on earth do we get to that higher ground?
Below is an account scribbled into the diary of a freshly religious young man, who is a central character in a manuscript I am currently working on. His secular, domineering father stumbles upon this entry while peeking into the worn notebook lying on his son’s desk, and he does not appreciate the imagery, to say the least.
This young man’s vision does speak to me, however (which may explain how it found its way into my manuscript). The scene painted below is one that I’ve often attempted to reconstruct while at prayer in this period of the Jewish year designated for introspection. When it comes to teshuva, stories and metaphors directed at my emotions have always moved me more than essays and sermons geared to my intellect, and I hope that the following will interest others who are of like mind:
I can picture it all very clearly. It is much more than a scene in my imagination; it is real. I can feel it as if I were actually there: the murmur of the void around me as it sucks neighboring sound waves into its belly, the chill of the breeze brushing over my naked body, the tang of burnt rock filling my nostrils.
I know with certainty that I have no other choice. There is no other way for me to change.
My cold body clings to the six-by-six foot island of rock on which I lie. I can spread out my arms and legs, but that is all. If I were to stick my limbs out any further, they would be dangling over the precipice. Utter darkness fills the abyss around me. There is no glimpse of life anywhere through which I can find comfort. Miles and miles of scorched earth on the far side of the surrounding pit meet the horizon in every direction.
I consider my naked bony frame before peeking once again over the edge. I crawl onto my knees, trembling, aware that any ill-fated movement, or a sudden gust of wind, could upset my delicate balance and knock me off my rock. From my knees, I pick up a stone and cast it forward, but I cannot hear the sound of it hitting solid ground. The abyss is menacingly deep; it is endless.
“I know what I have to do,” I say out loud. “I know that there’s no other way.” Yet, I will do it wholeheartedly or I will not do it at all. It is like entering the icy water: Nothing is worse than sticking one limb in at a time.
After peering at the subdued orange ball of the sun above my head one last time, I spring to my feet with a force that I did not think I had left in me.
I shut my eyes, take one last deep breath and fling myself as far off the flat surface as I can.
My heart is pumping madly as the force of my leap comes to a sudden end. Gravity takes hold of me and I know that I am no longer in control. I am falling. I am falling away from all those lies that I have concocted over the years so as to convince myself to stay put on my meaningless island.
The darkness of the abyss is thick at first, so thick that I cannot even see my body. I am so frightened that I do not even dare to flinch.
Finally, after freefalling for many miles, I am able to see my hands. Streams of light have managed to penetrate the hard darkness.
The light intensifies gradually until it is so bright that it blinds me. My eyes are burning but I refuse to close them; it has been so long since I have seen light.
I stop falling. My feet have landed on solid ground. As my eyes adjust, the overwhelming force of the luster is dimmed. No trace of the darkness remains.
I am free.