Yom Kippur D'rash

Posted by Bill C.

So, I have a little problem that I need to reveal. Actually, I have a big problem. I'm caught in a little bit of a trap.

When I told my mother that I had been invited to lead these services, her comment was "Inspire the Congregation. " Some of you have met my mother, who is 91 years old, lives alone, works two days a week, and still is driving her 7 year old Toyota Corolla. She is the essence of a Jewish mother/grandmother, and, god willing, if my son hurries up and marries the beautiful and talented Raquel, she'll be a great grandmother. She is truly remarkable.

However, when she mentioned this to me, when she told me to Inspire you, I got just the teeniest bit reactive. I know, it's hard to imagine. But I did. (Someone said being an adult is doing something even though your parent asked you to. ) I huffed around and stomped my feet and immediately thought about the t-shirt that says, "My mother knows how to push all my buttons, because she installed them. "

The problem is, this felt like a HUGE burden. Was I up to the task? I wanted to do a good job, because we wish to be inspired. On the other hand, I was overwhelmed.

Allow me to explain: It was coming out day yesterday, and I thought that I was done with coming out (I did the big one in 1978, though it wasn't on just one day).

But, no, there seems to be something else in the closet.

And it's not that I've hidden this very much from folks who know me and work with me, but it's not something I wear with pride (the way I embrace my gay identity).

All right, already, you're thinking, what is it? Well, I used to think that IT was procrastination. If you looked at the time stamp on this document, you'd notice that I started to type it at 5:52 PM.

It took me some time to recognize that procrastination was a driven by perfectionism.

Now, some of you know that I'm pretty psychologically minded. My day-job is as a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, and I have been trained in a variety of modalities including clinical hypnosis and family therapy, both of which I've taught extensively.

I can assure you that I've done a lot of work on this, and as I drilled down deeper, I discover this perfectionism.

So, on any variety of occasions, I would consciously acknowledge the messages I received from my parents (predominantly my father, but, it turns out that my mother was an unnamed co-conspirator all along), and say that I did not believe that things could be perfect.

Well, my friends, this was a temporary solution, and it didn't work very well at all.

As it turned out, what was and remains at the root of all this is the fear that what I do won't be good enough. (Are you getting the irony of this whole endeavor?)I'm working away at 6:15 to try to inspire you after putting this off for about 2 weeks. )

Where am I in all of this? What sense do I make of this? It strikes me that the original coming out story probably plays a big role: that which had me afraid to acknowledge who I was at my core, so that it took until I was 32 to be able to come home to myself. That terror of being rejected by friends, family, co-workers, or being ejected and ostracized: of not being good enough.

And this comes back to the central message of Yom Kippur, where we ask to be forgiven by God for the sins we committed against God, but need to ask directly of others for forgiveness for those sins that we committed against them. This honesty, going back to the wronged individual, is breathtakingly simple, and perhaps, the most difficult thing that we are asked to do.

How can we admit that we were wrong, that we may have hurt someone, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps indeed spitefully. It must be easier in those faiths which may provided an alternative pathway.

So, I'm asking you to consider this: we must start by forgiving ourselves. We must treat ourselves with compassion and love. My favorite author, Anne Lamott, comments that she would never treat a friend the way she treats herself: she would never be as harsh, as critical, as cruel to a friend who was suffering. And I believe that this may be true for many of us:

I will strive to be honest and compassionate with my friends and colleagues, and I will strive to do the same for myself.

I will seek to be honest and acknowledge my fears: to recognize that I stall, no ,I crash and burn when I'm afraid I won't live up to those high standards:

I ask God, "Help me, Help me. "

I pray that I will be good enough: the idea of the good enough parent is liberating. But our jobs sometimes demand more, or seem to, anyway.

Annie wrote a piece, "B+ is a very good grade. "

I love that piece. I cite that piece. I send it to people all the time.

But I forget it.

I'm trying to forgive myself. I'll be ecstatic if I get a B+ on this talk. (The irony is, it would be better if I crashed and burned and discovered it was not the end of the world, and that you didn't run me out of Bet Tikvah on a rail. But, then again, Ethel Cohen's sitting on my shoulder. I'll settle for B+).




8:15 AM Thursday 10/13/05

My phone rings: "Billy, did I wake you?" It is my mother calling.

"No, I'm up. "

"So, how did it go last night? Did you inspire your congregation?"

"Oh, yes," I reply with more than a modicum of pride. But, I'm getting nervous: I know what the next question is. Sure enough, it arrives right on cue.

"So, what did you talk about?"

I literally choke, and my brain goes into hyperdrive. How much do I say? After what feels like 10 minutes, I tell her, "Well, I talked about perfectionism. " I was so stirred up that I mumbled the last word.

About what?"

"Perfectionism. I think it was very meaningful. "

"Oh, good. Well, I hope you'll be able to work on that," she advises.

"Well, I hope so, too. "

"We missed you here. "

"And I missed being with you. "

"Have an easy fast. "