A rabbi on Facebook today urged people on this eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, to reflect on their biggest regrets and use that reflection to guide them toward smarter, wiser, fuller choices in the year to come.
Immediately, what came to me was that I regret not living to the fullest for so many years of my life. In college, I wanted to study abroad, in Africa, for a semester – I didn’t, telling myself that it was because the only Africa programs were year-long and I didn’t want to miss an entire year of college. The truth: I was nervous about leaving my boyfriend behind for a year (and I ended up breaking up with him).
I could’ve-would’ve-should’ve traveled, taken chances, not done the smart thing just to live a little, have an experience, meet new people, learn about myself and the world. I didn’t live in a foreign country. I didn’t work as a waitress for longer than a summer. I did stupid things like search for love, pine for guys, drink too much because my friends did. I was the typical insecure adolescent.
Then I became religious, thinking it would lead me to love and marriage and kids. It led me to an illusion of that (the kids are real), but I still wasn’t at home in myself.
And that is the biggest regret.
Taking the safe road, listening to every voice but my own, not staring at the sky for clarity rather than through someone else’s lenses.
When you revere and respect your elders, and listen to the cadence of their message – that you should stick close to home, to family, think of others, care what they think – you’re not listening to yourself.
There is a balance, I believe, and one that I am striving to achieve with my own kids.
I want them to fly far and wide, truly live. I want them to far exceed me and I am not threatened by the notion. I want them to be them – not me.
And in the meantime, I get to be more fully myself.
I have always had a strong personality so when I was younger, I was told that I had a big mouth and was bossy. The beauty ideal preferred by those around me consisted of straight (preferably blond) hair, blue eyes, svelte-thin. I grew up frizzy-curly, blue eyes (thank God!) and was thin enough.
It was the superficial focus, not the depth that people cared about. And I got swept up in the tide.
My biggest regret? Not loving myself from early on, and continuing that love into adulthood.
Not living for the moment, for the now, to have experiences and see the world, to let knowledge of others and other places enrich my knowledge of my Self.
Following the masses, being a sheep with a big mouth.
Listening to others.
So, on the eve of atonement, how can I use this knowledge to improve my tomorrows? We can’t change the past and we shouldn’t want to.
First, I need to realize that I did have exciting experiences despite my reticence: I drove cross-country with an 18-years-older-than-me boyfriend one summer, visiting spontaneous landmarks and towns along the way. I spent a week in the Bahamas with a friend teaching among ex-pats there, lecturing on writing to her students. I spent a summer in Italy and England, studying drama and journalism.
I spent three weeks in Israeli Army barracks, then wrote about it to inspire the world. My first book of poetry was my master’s thesis, published in time for graduation from graduate school – and I was the only person ever to arrive to graduation with boxes of books.
I’ve had affairs that have been movie-worthy, met people on planes that changed my perspective on entire communities. My first wedding was spectacularly beautiful and for quite a while, I did love being a part of the quiet religious world. I camped with my babies and other moms, freeing myself of religious confines and braving public reaction to finally live my truth.
I’ve had experiences.
For starters, I will step forward in the new year looking at the glass as half-full rather than half empty.
I will stop looking behind me – it doesn’t matter what came before. We have only NOW, this moment, and hopefully those to come after it.
So my resolution this Jewish new year is to live each moment as if it were my last, to welcome change and grasp opportunity and jump on board whenever something unfamiliar comes my way.
I will banish outside voices – they don’t matter much. While respectfully honoring every person’s right to think-say-do as they see fit.
I will listen to my own – it’s the only one I need to guide me – while ensuring humility with my every step.
One day at a time. One moment, even. Cherishing each breath, each sunrise, each laugh from my child, each tear on a cheek.
The moments make a life. I’ve said it before. And I’ll say it again.