Standing Tall


My mother and father were just about the same height, but somehow she always seemed taller. Maybe it was the shoes or maybe the way she carried herself in a proud but not superior Boston kind of manner. Or maybe the cigar, which was a horizontal point of reference, either in his hand or mouth, moderated his stature so it appeared that he was shorter.

I don’t think it ever bothered him. Generally, he was easy going, giving, happy and hard working, always trying to do more for his family. Charlie, with a broad “A”, almost no “R”, was a good person who struggled with his own successes and disappointments. He was a pharmacist and a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company, with a drugstore in the trunk of his car always full of samples. There was no Medicare Part D or Drug plans then, but there was Charlie with an open hand and heart. But when he perceived that people took advantage of him, or something went wrong in the house that neither my sisters nor I understood, you could feel the stillness and almost see the anger. It wasn’t like a match that flares and goes out; it was this steady kind of burn, the water in the pot just at the point of boiling over.

I feel guilty even writing this but I think he had a hard time letting go of the hurt, but then again, what do I really know of what transpired right before the flame was lit. This I do know: I have my own issues with forgiveness. I have my own challenges to work through and overcome. I somehow find it easy to shut down and retreat into silence when I am hurting. I own it and there is no blame or finger pointing here. We all have different modalities in our arsenal of coping and we are constantly learning and relearning them in every situation.

Enter Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness that whisper hope and renewal to me. Enter Selichot announcing a New Year is coming; a new time for me to begin again; a moment of growth and promise. Enter Selichot initiating a process of review and assessment for those who stop, look and listen. The liturgy, the music, the colors, the sounds gently surround me with compassion and concern. I need Selichot; I need a mechanism that invites me to face how I deal with the injuries I have felt and the hurts I have inflicted. I need Selichot; I want to enter the New Year fresh and rejuvenated. I want to enter it forgiving and forgiven. I love that our tradition gives me a chance to get it right and make it better by facing my own personal failings. I love the time worn words of our liturgy that are consistently pumping out ways to reflect and view a different image in the water.

When those “Al Chets -For the Sins we have committed” jump out of the prayer book, I’m there. Sometimes they are listed in alphabetic order; always in the plural. The sages understood that we are all in this together and no matter how individual our failings may be; it is human to fall and get up, to stumble and stand tall. “Arrogance, bigotry, cynicism, deceit,” I often don’t make it past “A”. The samples in my father’s trunk healed and restored. The samples in mine are the regrets, the hurts, the disappointments, the missed opportunities, the challenges I haven’t met, the words spoken without thinking, the self absorption that comes so easily, giving with not so invisible strings attached or giving grudgingly; taking eagerly. I could go on; in the quiet of the night, I’m good at listing all the ways I have disappointed others and myself.

But this is what Selichot says to me. Consider your deeds; reflect on who you are and who you wish to be; ask for forgiveness and whatever you mean by the word God will pick you up, clean you, brush you off and set you on a new course. It is work like all prayer, but it is worth it. Refreshed, renewed, ready for the broken call of the shofar to proclaim a New Year and another opportunity for wholeness.

(This post was originally published on Ten Minutes of Torah


8 thoughts on “Standing Tall

  1. Beautiful words for a vulnerable time, making the days of awe safer for my own reflections.

    Sent from my iPhone Jacquelyn Browne, Ph.D., L.C.S.W.



  2. Thank you for your reflection. I thought you were being too hard on yourself, but was encouraged by the last paragraph and the optimism in it. I get sermons every day from the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA, and the one today was a reflection on Isaiah 40. It has many of the thoughts you expressed. I’ll send it to you separately. Blessings, Tom


  3. Thank you for your beautiful reflection. You give words that I think everyone can relate to – the need to forgive and be forgiven. Thank you.


  4. Standing Tall has helped me understand the meaning of Selichot and reminds me to reflect and repair what is broken in me and what is broken between myself and others.


  5. And it’s also true that we continue to need to do this on an ongoing basis which, to me, implies we’ll never get it right. Or, we’ll keep doing what we do even though we try to get it right. For me, it says we’re all fallible human beings who’ll die with unfinished business. Hopefully, we just do the best we can while we’re on this earth.


  6. Howard, I love the image of your father’s trunk. By grace the Lord sent me a person for pastoral care with Multiple Personality Disorder who was tortured by both parents. She is knitting herself back together with love. She has to say out loud what was done to her in order to shake the unreality of it. Horror does something to block the process. I see but can’t explain it. The body wants to hide pain from itself somehow. There is a necessary moment of recognition in the process leading to forgiveness that blesses the person who moves on from there. It is God’s business to settle the tab, mine to tell the story. It is not unjust to say what happened clearly that has created pain for a lifetime. Her story is so bizarre the chance of transference is slight. I cannot change what is past by pushing it out of the way. She is the extreme example of that. Trying to make the event that caused pain smaller by rationalizing it, is likewise ineffectual. I think I was sent to her because I encourage her to tell her story as she experienced it. We are not worried about being fair to her parents. She is sorting out what she has to forgive without complicating it in any way. I have been on red alert for signs of blame and resentment. They are not there. She is completely focused on healing for the sake of her present and her future. She has been my best teacher.


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