Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

May You Be Inscribed in the Book of Life

BridgeToday I got an email. The who’s and what’s aren’t important. But the gist was, “I sent you a jerky email a while ago, and I wanted to apologize.”

I checked my archives. The email was five years ago. It wasn’t even all that bad – I’ve certainly received worse. But here was this guy, a stranger, making amends, five years later.

And, truthfully, my first thought was, “I wonder if he’s Jewish.”

This isn’t as random as it first seems. We’re in the Days of Awe right now – the 10 days in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. If you’re not familiar with Jewish holidays, just think Christmas and Easter and you’ll get a sense for how important these two are.

It’s said that during this time, the Book of Life is open, and it’s decided who will live and who will die this year. As a kid, I imagined it like Santa’s list of naughty and nice, just with more severe consequences. At the end of the 10 days, on Yom Kippur, the book is closed and if you’re in it, you get another year. If not, you don’t.

I’m not super religious, but there are some things I like about Judaism. I like that there’s no original sin – you’re born pretty much okay and you get to fuck it up from there. And nobody dies for your sins – they’re yours to deal with as you choose.

So during the Days of Awe, while the book is open, you’re supposed to make things right with the people around you. You don’t get forgiven by God for your sins against other people – you can only really be forgiven by them. So get busy.

Outside of any literal religiosity, I really like this tradition. Take a moment – hell take a week and a half – to look at your life, think through your behavior, and mend fences where you can. Not because God says so, and not to suck up for another year on this rock, but just because it makes the world a better place.

I’ve had a tough year. I’ve been mistreated, and I’ve done my own mistreating. I’ve been angry, and I’ve been sad, and that’s made me unkind. I’ve lost friends and colleagues.

I did the best I could. I could have done better.

At Rosh Hashanah services this year, the rabbi gave a sermon about second chances. He said that the Torah is full of examples. The first set of stone tablets that came down from the mountain were destroyed – the second set are the ones we talk about now. The first era of man was ended in the flood (you know, when Noah did his thing) – this is the second.

His point was, I think, to not give up when something falls apart. That building something new out of the rubble of the first try makes the second try stronger. It’s no accident that Fray was reborn during the Days of Awe. After a year of destruction, I just want to feel like I’m building something again.

The magic thing about making amends is that it’s catchy. Receiving a belated apology for a 5 year-old email flame reminded me that I have a few apologies of my own to give.

If I wronged you this year, I’m sorry. If you wronged me, I forgive you.

Everyone deserves another chance to get it right.

UPDATE: I read this story for MPR’s Weekend America.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.