The first time I realized that I wasn’t giving myself permission to be here I was 12. I read a line in a poem and practically burst into tears of relief: “You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” It’s from “Desiderata,” a prose poem written by Max Ehrmann in 1927.
It also feels a little bit like what I recently was instructed is said in Navajo prayers: “I am your child, I am your grandchild, I am one that you made sacrosanct,” said in morning prayers as white corn is being offered to everything that is sacred and divine within the dawn light.
Almost daily I seem to forget to receive unconditional love from the universe — and tense up again. So, this week I was taken by surprised when a raft of papers fell down from the back of the bookcase I was cleaning. When I bent to pick them up, I found a poem I had written almost a decade ago.
The poem, about a woman who can’t stop apologizing, reminded me that if as children we don’t develop strong self-esteem, we will blame ourselves overmuch for things, and in order not to be punished, or to get a jump on agreeing that we’re wrong, we may apologize too much. Both men and women have these feelings, though studies have shown women tend to feel them more, and verbalize them more often, and then of course apologize for doing so.
In the Jewish tradition, we have to feel remorse and find ways to make real heart-felt, satisfying apologies to those we have wronged. During the High Holidays that mark the beginning of the new year, on Yom Kippur, we are required to apologize to God for our sins, and to say “I’m sorry” to those we have hurt and to ask for their forgiveness.
I asked Albuquerque rabbi Paul Citrin if this was an accurate statement about Jewish tradition, he said yes, and added, “There are times we need to make amends and to repair relationships. Then, apologizing makes us better.”
Here is the poem I had written, forgotten about, and found again, which tells me what I can do to find a clearer, more genuine, and more powerful place from which to act in the coming new year.
There Once Was a Woman Who Was Apologetic
There once was a woman who was apologetic.
She apologized to herself.
She apologized to her husband.
She apologized to her two dogs and to her three cats.
When she went to the market she apologized.
She apologized to the grocer.
She apologized to the baker.
She apologized to the butcher.
When the sun rose before she did, she tried to apologize to it, but it didn’t hear her, even while it warmed her face.
When the tide rose and the waves rushed in, she apologized for allowing them to wet her sandals, while her toes delighted in the bubbling froth.
When the moon rose high in the sky, she apologized for not noticing it sooner, but it ignored her, while its beams bathed her dreams.
And when the stars came out, she tried to apologize to them.
Suddenly a star figure appeared before her, it was Diana, the warrior woman.
“Stop apologizing!” shouted the Star Woman. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re doing everything right.”
The woman tried to apologize for apologizing.
“Stop apologizing!” shouted the Star Woman again, and then beside her appeared Orion, the male warrior constellation, who shouted alongside the Star Woman warrior.
The woman once again tried to apologize, for apologizing for apologizing.
Next the constellation Leo the Lion roared alongside them, and then the Big Dipper joined in, who danced joy and wisdom. The woman finally heard them, and,
giving a short slightly sheepish apologetic smile, closed her mouth, didn’t apologize,
didn’t thank them, didn’t bow, and walked home.
The next day she didn’t apologize to her husband, to her two dogs or to her three cats.
The second day she didn’t apologize to the grocer, the butcher, or the baker,
And at dawn on the third morning she didn’t apologize to the sun
At noon she didn’t apologize to the waves,
That evening she didn’t apologize to the moon,
And on the fourth night, she certainly didn’t apologize to the stars, and then she finally realized
The sun still came up, the waves rolled in, the moon came out, and the stars rose and set, whether or not she said anything.
And, as she had nothing left to apologize for, she finally gave a deep sigh, for she was at peace,
and went home and went to bed,
as she was quite exhausted,
and she apologized to no one on the way home,
nor when she climbed into bed,
and not even when she went to sleep.
This poem was written during a workshop “Writing in the Mythological Voice: Elevating the Mundane into Myth” led by Natalie Reid, author of The Spiritual Alchemist.
View articles by Diane Joy Schmidt at her website