ONE DAY BACK

“Hold away despair.

More than this I will not ask.

Faced with mysteries dark and vast,

Statements just seem vain at last.

Some rise, some fall, some climb.”

– Grateful Dead, Terrapin Station

It’s a strange place for Jews to soul search.

Church basements aren’t lofty temples.

But they are humble havens.

For the recovering.

And the still struggling.

 

Chronic relapsers are not scolded.

In fact, they are applauded.

Because they are the ironic heroes.

Their fresh wounds are cautionary tales.

 

“One day back” is a painful confession.

But it is a triumphant one.

 

“Even the demons are encouraged when their host is not lost in loss itself.” 

John Milton, Paradise Lost

 

This time of year is always unnerving.

Not because it’s terribly awe-inspiring.

But because it’s supposed to be.

It feels like a cut-and-paste auto-reply.

Replicated. Year after year.

Page after page.

Guilty plea after guilty plea.

 

But this time’s gonna be different.

As were all the others.

 

It’s hard to be genuine on autopilot.

And it’s hard to snap out of autopilot when I feel like a fraud.

A repeat offender.

A BS artist.

 

But the issue is not my past.

The issue is my present.

And my misguided labels.

I’m not a repeat offender.

I’m just a chronic relapser.

 

The repeat offender is a boy crying wolf.

The chronic relapser is seized by its grip.

The repeat offender dodges bullets.

The chronic relapser admits defeat.

Their actions appear identical.

But their intentions are polar opposites.

The repeat offender is a BS artist, trying to pull a scam.

The chronic relapser is a human being, trying to get real.

 

Perhaps that’s why we begin Yom Kippur with the strange intro:

“We are permitted to pray with the sinners…”

Why open the ceremony by highlighting our black sheep and bad apples?

Because they’re not black sheep.

And they’re not bad apples.

They are simply chronic relapsers.

The ironic heroes.

Whose fresh wounds are cautionary tales.

“One day back” is a painful confession.

But it’s a triumphant one.

We’re not granting them permission to pray with us.

Their presence grants us permission to pray with ourselves.

Because, the truth is, we’re all one day back.

And that’s all we’re ever asked to be.

Some rise. Some fall. Some climb.

But even the demons are encouraged when their host is not lost in loss itself.