Dani Shapiro
October 9, 2008

Succumbing to Dismay

Today is Yom Kippur, and probably blogging is somewhere high up on the list of what you’re not supposed to do on Yom Kippur. In the Orthodox Jewish family of my childhood–if blogging or computers had existed–this very act would have broken a series of prohibitions. The use of electricity, for one. Writing, for another. Not to mention removing one’s focus from the holiness and importance of the day.

But I am actually thinking about the holiness and importance of the day. Last night, Michael, Jacob and I went to Kol Nidre services at a synagogue I’ve finally discovered in my search for a place to belong as a Jew here in Cheever country. It’s been a long (six year long!) road, but finally I have found a sanctuary where I feel spiritually at home. And because I feel so comfortable there, I found myself able to listen, to really listen to the “ashamnu” prayer which is central to the Kol Nidre service. This is the prayer that always scared me half to death as a child, and even as an adult. As God flips through the pages of the Book of Life and makes decisions about the fate of each and every person in the coming year, we beat our chests and admit our sins. The language of this list of sins is disconcerting: we have stolen, we have committed adultery, we have become violent, we have been contemptuous, we have rebelled. We have been wicked, stiff-necked, immoral. Last night, somehow, these words felt the way I think they’re supposed to. They were not necessarily my personal confessions, but the confessions of an entire people. An entire community, a world of humanity, admitting their frailty.

Finally, though, it was this sin that popped out at me: For the sin of succuming to dismay. If there was ever a moment to understand this as a sin, or a failing, it seemed a good time to recognize it. To feel dismay is not a sin. The sin is to succumb to it. I held the thought like a small stone in my pocket, fingering it, returning to it on the drive home.

But then we returned from services and walked into the kitchen to discover that Samson the Labradoodle pup had managed to pull the half-eaten challah off the kitchen counter, and had eaten the whole thing. Bits of saran wrap covered the kitchen floor. We called the vet to be sure the dog wasn’t in danger. And I tried not to succumb to dismay.