I know in the sea of alternative prayer and service options that exist these days, there must be an opportunity for me to formally ask the Earth for her forgiveness this Yom Kippur.
I am sure there is a traditional prayer turned modern just for this purpose. I am sure that there are eco-friendly havurot, Mother Nature-inspired kehillot, and plenty of Jewish bloggers offering tips for how to “green your Yom Kippur.”
I know that I could leave Kibbutz Hannaton this afternoon, convene with like-minded individuals out in nature, and meditate alone or together on what I’ve done this past year to hurt our planet and what I could do in the coming year to heal her.
Maybe next year, I’ll find myself participating in such a retreat or alternative service — it would certainly suit me.
But this year, instead, I plant.
Today, I’m doing something as basic as picking up the trash in my yard and planting new vegetables in my garden. Today, I’m recognizing how the simple act of one person makes a difference, for both good and for bad.
Tomorrow, instead of focusing my prayer solely on people, I turn my mind, too, to the planet.
I do this not as a noble cause. Not as an effort to engage others. I do this simply because I really, really feel sorry for what I’ve done.
This morning, I walked along the quiet road up to the kibbutz stables looking for a peaceful corner to meditate alone and to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the Jewish Day of Atonement. I found a tree that curved in such a way that her trunk provided seating and her branches provided shade. I was struck by how perfect this tree was. And then I was struck once more by my own awe. My own wonder at the beauty of this tree.
When did I become this nature-loving, tree-hugging, meditating-on-Mother Nature conservationist?
I certainly wasn’t born this way. Or raised this way. And not because my parents weren’t educated, responsible, or compassionate. They were.
But nobody knew better then. Or hardly any of us did. Hardly any of us talked about the land, the sea, or the water as if it was anything else but available for our consumption and recreation.
Of course, there was a conservation movement in the 1970s and early ’80s, but in New Jersey, where I grew up, those people were weirdos and the rest of us thought it was perfectly okay to throw McDonald’s Happy Meals out the car window on the highway. I remember doing it once myself. I also remember chucking out cigarette butts, and gum wrappers, and miscellaneous nastiness from the car floor.
As a young adult, I flushed tons of unused and expired antibiotics down the drain, not to mention the hundreds of gallons of chlorine bleach I used to clean my toilets, tubs and sinks. I threw away batteries, and paint, and diapers, without giving a second thought to what would happen once the mythical Garbage Man took my bags from my curb-side can. I’m sure I left my discarded picnic trash out in a forest once or twice, or even three times. I conveniently forgot empty wine bottles on the beach and left soda cups in the parking lot of the mall.
I simply didn’t think my behavior — for or against the planet — made much of a difference. Not only that; for most of my life I thought that people who “did things for the planet” were losers or posers or wannabes. I made fun of them; told jokes at their expense. I thought their work was a waste of time. Pointless.
Sometimes, I still think that way. Most of the time, though, my heart hurts instead.
Wow, does my heart hurt when I realize how I contributed to the mess that we’re in now.
My heart hurts. My head hurts. And I’m scared that it’s too late to fix this mess. I’m scared of the consequences of my actions. I wish I could have a second chance to do it over.
When I explore those feelings, I realize, “This is what it feels like to be sorry.”
And I am.
And so I plant. And I pick up trash. And I thank the tree for her shade. And I notice the subtle differences between dry earth and wet beneath my bare feet as I walk. I ask for forgiveness. And promise to do what I can to heal our relationship.
Because I’ve discovered that this thing we have — me and the planet– is a relationship. And one that requires reconciliation.