Atonement

Here we are in the midst of the ten days of awe, the ten days of repentance. During this period, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are intended to be introspective, to look at the year just ending and think about the year that has begun.  Our tradition tells us that these days are a time to seek forgiveness for all that we have done that might have hurt someone else.  These actions could have been deliberate, accidental, a byproduct of something else that has transpired but the end result is the same—we have failed someone in some way, we have hurt someone whether intentionally or unintentionally.  We are encouraged to apologize, to make peace and to heal whatever breaches exist as well as we can.

Each of us, when we look at our lives, can find moments when things happened that we wish had been different, when we made a choice that we later regret, when our words or actions resulted in causing someone else pain.  And, for many of us, there are words that we have said in anger, hoping to wound and feeling some satisfaction when our barbs hit their mark.

When we talk with our older adults about these ten days, about anything for which they need or want to make amends, their desire to “make things right” is often not about the year just ending but about time in the past.  Times when they felt they could have done better—as parents, as spouses, as siblings, as friends.  They talk about relationships that are fractured and, sadly, about people in their lives who are no longer with us, people they wish that they could reach out to and mend fences with, but know that it is too late – that moment has passed.

There are many lessons for us when we talk with our elders, lessons about life that we may know but, perhaps, don’t take as seriously as we might.  Our elders remind us of the importance of forgiveness, that holding onto hurt and anger, in the end, only hurts us; that there will be a time when we want to heal the wounds but it may be too late.

We live in the moment, we react in the moment and we often make decisions in the moment as well.  Yet given a time to reflect, at the end of the year or in the last stage of life, how do we learn from what we have done and how do we repair ourselves, our relationships and our world? And, even more importantly, how do we forgive ourselves and give ourselves the grace we need and the grace that we all deserve?

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a member of the boards of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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