What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This week Jews all over the world will celebrate Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins a period of penitence and introspection, culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Reflecting upon one’s life over the previous year can be an overwhelming and unfortunately shame-inducing process. But, maybe there is another way…
This past Shabbat, while sitting around our table, my friend and psychoanalyst Ali reflected on the non-linear pattern of our lives, that—as we look back at our lives—we often feel (especially where there has been trauma) that our current feelings of unease or upset are the result of “getting off track”, as if there were one undeviating path meant for our lives. But, as Ali commented, maybe there isn’t one pre-determined path meant for us. Maybe, instead, our lives are an organic, ever-evolving process—comprised of all our experiences, choices, mistakes, and lessons learned. So that got me thinking about Rosh Hashana…
In Hebrew, the word for repentance is teshuva, which literally means return, and which on the surface seems a lot like this linear approach to one’s life. Usually when I think of return, I think of going back to a previous and pure image of myself—me back before I did that thing or before that thing happened to me. But, using Ali’s approach, what if I am NOT returning to my old self, but rather returning to a state—beyond time and place?
This brings me to Gabriel Garcia Marquez—a genius of memory, a master storyteller, and a man who simultaneously lived in the past, present and future. Garcia Marquez told stories that invited us to look honestly at our collective and personal past. The remembering—while painful at times—was clothed in magic, allegory, non-linear chronology, and humor, to soften the blow and soothe the soul. And, hopefully through remembering, we would be equipped to create a new and beautiful future.
So as we take stock of our lives—whether for Rosh Hashanah or for other reasons, maybe we can do so with a sense of ourselves as a work in progress, as continually growing and developing people. And we can remember, as Garcia Marquez reminds us—not to fill ourselves with shame—but to fill the world with more love.