“I, myself, am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”— Augusten Burroughs
Every day, in different ways, I find myself admitting to and owning my flaws. When these flaws get in the way of doing the right thing or result in unintentionally hurting another, then an apology goes along with the owning.
It’s hard to be human. We are all flawed. These flaws, these imperfections, allow us the opportunity to grow, to learn, to keep striving for better. How boring would life be if we were all perfect! We don’t even have to contemplate that scenario, it will never happen because, again, we are human and being flawed is a given.
Even Moses, a great prophet and beloved of God, was shown to be flawed, fatally flawed in fact. He was condemned to die in the desert, forbidden entry to the land of Israel, and denied the honor of leading his people to the final homecoming because in a fit of frustration his trust in God slipped and he credited himself for a miracle.
Our flaws are as varied as we are, but it seems that many of us share a common flaw. We have an unwillingness to allow a person to change. Any adult child who goes back to their parent’s home for a family get together recognizes this; we are forever in our family’s eyes that 12 year old with all the likes, dislikes and behavioral quirks from that age. All our bad deeds come flooding back in discussion around the supper table, often accompanied with a “Do you still do that?”
This flaw, this unwillingness to allow for change is writ large on the public stage, as we have seen time and time again old misdeeds and bad behavior coming back to haunt a notable person. We seem to want people to carry the bad from their past with them always, like the chains weighing down Jacob Marley’s ghost, link upon link. We do not allow for a link to be removed through contrition or atonement. No, we deem these permanent burdens to bear. Worse still, there is always, always someone ready to rattle the chain, shaking the links to drown out all the change the person has gone through, discredit all the good they have accomplished, deny the person they have become.
It’s a curious thing. Shouldn’t we allow those who accept responsibility for whatever wrong they have done, who have apologized, and who have truly changed their behavior, shouldn’t we allow that person to be the person they are now and not the person they were? The past makes us who we are today, but we are not chained to the past. We are creatures with huge potentials for change and we must allow it of ourselves and others.
Don’t get it wrong, those people who have not accepted responsibility for their past, have not apologized — no “If I hurt you”-type of apologies accepted here — or changed their ways, are who they were and we must be aware of that. Some people do not change, do not grow as a person. As Maya Angelou said “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
In just over three weeks, Jews throughout the world will be starting on our High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is our time of deep reflection, to accept responsibility of our wrongdoings, acknowledge the harm we have done over the past year, and to atone. We are given the glorious opportunity to admit to our flaws and to set the intention to change.
Over the next few months leading up to the election, we will be bombarded by articles proclaiming the virtues and flaws of people of note. Remember: we are all flawed. Look a bit deeper into people. Look for the signs of true growth and change; of accepting responsibility and transforming. Allow it in yourself and in others. Do not burden yourself or others unnecessarily with the chains of the past.
“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” — Henri Bergson
• Patricia Turner Custard is a member of Congregation Sukkat Shalom. “Living Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.