And Yet. . .
During the month of Elul, culminating on these Yamim Noraim, these Awesome Days, we look back over the year that is drawing to a close with an eye towards where in our lives we might want to push that “restart” button as we enter 5775. Our goal is an unfiltered, searingly honest review of our actions so that we can continue to grow spiritually and bring a greater sense of holiness to our days.
It is all too easy to be defensive as we examine our failings. But- we say, But- I was under pressure, But- I was misinformed, But- my dog ate the homework. The word “but” is disjunctive. “But” interrupts the flow of conversation. But, but, but- the word but equals no. The word but too often comes across as- you are wrong- it invalidates whatever was just said.
Counseling 101 suggests that we avoid the use of “but,” substituting, instead, “and.” As one counseling guide suggests, “Ever had anyone respond to you, “Yes, but, I see it this way”? Well, the message sent by the use of the word but is that what you said may be true but the second part, the part after the but, is really more important. You may feel that you are being told that their viewpoint is more important than your viewpoint. How often do you send this message to others?” Saying “and” acknowledges the validity of other perspectives. Saying “and” instead of “but” is sometimes helpful, and sometimes feels artificial.
We should, apparently avoid “but” and say, instead, “and.” Let me suggest a third option. During this past year, I read a wonderful book called The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. As the novel unfolded, a pattern emerged where the author increasingly employed the phrase, “and yet.” I was so intrigued by this alternative to either “and” or “but.” I was so attracted to the idea of “and yet”- opening the door to a world of other perspectives and possibilities. Here are a few examples from the book:
“I had left my anger somewhere long ago. Put it down on a park bench and walked away. And yet. It hadn’t been so long.”
What a poignant reminder on these High Holydays that it is not quite so easy to let go of anger as we might hope. We can walk away from it, and yet, it still feels fresh.
A second example-
“I thought about my life. At least I make a living. What kind of living? A living. I lived. It wasn’t easy. And yet. I found out how little is unbearable.”
Again- as we look back at the year that is ending, we feel a small sense of triumph at having endured the hurts and the challenges that have brought us to this moment. Whatever 5774 has meant to us individually- we lived. It wasn’t easy. And yet- we survived. Here we are, ready to enter a new year.
“And yet. I wanted to believe. So I tried. And I found I could.”
Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what brings us en masse to the synagogue on Rosh HaShanah. We want to believe.
As we reflect on our actions and chart a new course for the year ahead, I invite you to consider this notion of “and yet.” Indeed, Yom Kippur is called Yom ha-Din, the Day of Judgment, and yet- perhaps what we need is not a judgmental BUT you sinned, rather, a more kind and gentle reframing of our actions? We have done wrong. Of course. We are human beings. AND YET we are still here, we are still trying, we still want to believe. May we be so blessed.