Have you ever felt stuck in a moment or situation of your own creation and the only way out seems blocked by your pride and stubbornness? The age-old “Say ‘Uncle'” kind of moment comes to mind. You know that kind of moment: you may have teased your brother or sister (or been teased by them) and all of a sudden you are in some kind of unbreakable wrestling hold and have to show your defeat and deference by uttering “Uncle” (or whatever creative phrase your conqueror suggested) to set you free.
I find that parenting offers many opportunities to feel this way. Most commonly for me such a moment occurs following some tears flowing from one of my two children. The tears resulting from some emotional or physical assault at the hands of my other child. Following the time-out, the calming down, the talking about what happened comes my request/expectation/demand for the guilty party (as if there is only one guilty party, that would be easy … but that is a subject for another post) to say: “I’m sorry”.
It has always been my instinct to have my children since they could speak to apologize to whomever they hurt since. I also must admit that I am pretty sure that for the first few years of this ‘policy’ developmentally speaking, they were not even up to the task of what I was asking them to do. Of course, one of them would dig in their heels and refuse to grant me my request (one in particular, but I will withhold names to protect the innocent). I would in turn dig in my own heels and further insist – with a complete list of consequences – why they needed to say: “I’m sorry.” And there it was, the moment of my own creation in which I was stuck – well past the window for my child to actually learn anything about apologizing – but entrenched in my own need to hear those two little words pass those two little lips. Internally, I would ask myself: “What is the real value in the saying or hearing of these words at this point?”
We are the midst of a period of time of year during which – one could suggest – the Cosmic Parent is requesting/expecting/demanding us to utter those same two little words …complete with consequences for the various kinds of inaction on our part. If one’s God concept and the Cosmic Parent do not mesh, then those of who lean this spiritual direction begin to ask and assess the nature and value of this forgiveness process. I expect that all of us would find value in it on a societal and interpersonal level. Many times in life the utterance of these two little words – regardless of the depth of meaning and understanding behind them – make difficult moments more manageable and allow us to move on (or away) from draining and painful confrontation.
Jewish tradition, however, raises the stakes on “I’m sorry” beyond the “Can’t we all get along?” level. Tradition puts “I’m sorry” and its accompanying sense of accountability at the heart of the essence of our nature and our very survival. There is life and death at stake not merely in utterance of these words, but in the understanding behind that utterance. Jewish tradition would teach us that each and every wrong – committed knowingly or unknowingly – without proper acknowledgement isolates each individual further from her or his ultimate Source; exiles humanity further and further from the Divine. This kind of thinking puts a little more punch behind those three succinct syllables.
Nu, which is it? (Or better put, which is it for you?) Purely and simply a “Say Uncle” kind of situation? A couple of important, helpful words … without the cosmic punch. Or something greater, grander and more weighty?