By Diane Joy Schmidt
The new moon of this month marked the beginning of the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, followed next week by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we ask for forgiveness. The harvest cycles and autumn also begin now. On the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah penitential prayers are begun in order to prepare for the holiday.
Rabbi Min Kantrowitz led a profound meditation Saturday night in Albuquerque that began with the idea that in order to forgive others we must first forgive ourselves. She led us through a visualization of self-forgiveness, after which we then asked for forgiveness from others, forgave them and finally, asked for forgiveness from God.
My intention in this life now is to share my gifts as a writer to the greatest extent that I can—and in having failed to do so up til now, I have a lot to forgive myself for. I blocked this writing for the better part of my life. It was, I now realize, in part a result of choices I made as a little child that prevented me from living up to my potential.
One of the traditions for beginning the New Year is that we take slices of apple, dip them in honey and wish each other Shanah Tovah, a sweet and whole New Year. This year, I realized that even though I am now already chronologically in my 60s I still must address these blocks of my earliest childhood. Coincidentally, one of the most significant moments in which I decided to hide my light and withdraw from the world had to do with apples. Baked apples. I was four years old.
My parents had gone to Europe for two weeks. This was a big deal in the 1950’s. They flew on a transatlantic DC-7 Pan Am flight from New York’s Idlewild Airport to London, where they saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Our elderly grandparents drove from Cleveland to Chicago to take care of us.
My two older sisters had spent the first years of their lives in Cleveland, where they had a close relationship with my grandparents. Then I came along, five years later. Now suddenly I was the baby, the youngest, the favorite.
One day, my grandmother decided to bake apples. A wonderful smell of baking filled the house. I couldn’t wait for the apples to come out of the oven and I wanted to taste one immediately. She said, “No they’re too hot, they have to cool first,” and she set the baking pan high up at the back of the stove. When I climbed on a chair to try reach them, she yelled at me and pushed me away from the stove. Verboten! Forbidden fruit.
When they cooled, I didn’t want any. They were cold. They didn’t smell delicious anymore. They looked slimy. My grandpa, who liked me to pretend-pick fleas off his bald head and who taught me gin rummy when the rest of the house was asleep, now was unaccountably mad at me. He wanted me to eat that cold thing. He took a spoonful and tried to stick it in my mouth, like I was a baby, and next thing I know—I’ve squirmed away from him and I’m under the kitchen table and they’re holding me down and he’s sticking the spoon in my mouth. I’m scared and angry.
My sisters are laughing from the next room—finally she’s getting her comeuppance! Humiliated, crying, I climb up the stairs in our split-level home and close the bedroom door. It’s morning but I go into the closet where there were blankets stored and I curl up in the dark. I feel a sense of outrage and humiliation and injustice. And safety in the dark there too, where I tell myself that I’m special, even if nobody loves me and they’re laughing at me.
There is a special prayer, The Release of Vows, said at the evening service that begins Yom Kippur. It pertains to vows that we may have made in the last year, or will make, unconsciously or consciously, that we now ask to be released from. It might well apply to decisions we made as children. These decisions have acted like vows, and have continued to bind us to a way of being that we need to release ourselves from.
They are the sort of things we tell ourselves as children in order to survive all kinds of traumatic episodes. In this case, I decided that I was both unloved and special. The corollary belief that remained lodged in my subconscious was, that if I was special I was also unloved. This incident of the baked apples became a defining part of me.When there is anger, blame, shame and guilt there is not much room left to forgive oneself.
With this year’s new-won knowledge, the dragons that guarded this unintentional sin, this valuable belief that so much of my life was invested in, are fading away. At the ceremony of Tashlicht during the New Year observances that Cantor Barbara Finn led, where we cast bread on the waters to cast away our sins of omission or commission, I stood on the banks of the Rio Grande and cast away the belief that I am unloved, this sin of a limiting belief. Now, in the spirit of the New Year, the spoiled, poisoned, half-baked evil apple is transformed into the golden apple of knowledge, allowing light, breath and renewal and the capacity for forgiveness of self. A first step.
Visit Diane at www.dianejoyschmidt.com.