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Internet Atonement

There are ten days between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (a holiday of atonement) that Jews are supposed to use to reflect on the past year.  They are supposed to think about promises they made that they didn’t keep, as well as ways they’d like to do things better in the upcoming year.  One of the names for these ten days is Ya’meem Noraim, which literally translates into Days of Awe.

Nora (pronounced NO-rah) means awful or terrible, which is a word you have to step back from a bit in order to see.  It is a term that evokes disbelief — awful; full of awe — at the enormity of the situation, as if you can’t quite take it in.  Things that are awful fill you with an overwhelming mixture of fear and reverence.  Terrible is another word that you have to step back to see.  The “ible” suffix means “capable of.”  Something terrible is capable of evoking terror.  Perhaps because it is so important to you.

The term fits in this case — nora is the perfect word: ten days full of awe — because it’s an introspective period of time when you are supposed to reflect on what you’ve done as well as what you plan to do if given another year to live.  Many people use it as a time to apologize to people they may have hurt in the past year, either knowingly or unknowingly.

I’ve written about this before, but every year, before Al Cheit prayer during the Kol Nidre service, my rabbi recites his own personalized apology to the congregation.  As I’ve said in the past:

It is a way to reach out to those that you inadvertently hurt during the year but didn’t tell you. If a person tells me that something I wrote or said hurt her, I can address that apology directly. But I am sure I have scratched someone emotionally and have had no clue that my words or actions have done damage.

So, once again, I offer this apology to you, repentance in the Internet age, where our actions or non-actions online may affect someone just as much as the things we do in our face-to-face world.

  • For the times it took me an enormous amount of time to return an email, and for the times when I didn’t return the email at all because so much time had passed that I was embarrassed to admit I was just getting to it now.
  • For the times I missed a blog post that you took a lot of time to write.
  • For the times when I didn’t comment, even knowing how much writers like feedback on their words.
  • For the times when I missed your Facebook status and had no idea something enormous was happening in your life.
  • Equally, for the times I missed your Tweet and had no idea what you were going through.
  • For the times when you learned something through my blog or a social media site, but you’re close enough to me that you should have been told directly.
  • For the times that you commented on my blog, and I didn’t comment on yours.
  • For the times that I wrote posts that offended you or were just plain boring or too fucking long.
  • For the times that I cursed if cursing offends you.

Part of an apology is this unspoken promise that in pointing out your foibles that it won’t happen again.  And yet, as I make these apologies, I know that all these things will happen again.  I will curse because I sometimes curse, and I will write things that will offend you this year because I have no idea that my words are offending someone until they are doing their damage.  I will not be able to return every comment, I will miss the vast majority of tweets and status updates because I don’t spend enough time on those social media sites to catch all the words.  I will continue to read blogs on a mobile device that makes it difficult to comment, and I will sometimes miss blog posts entirely when I have to skim to keep up.  There will be times that it still takes me a week to write you back.

Which I hope doesn’t make this apology empty.  I’ve realized by this point in life that apologizing for my foibles doesn’t make the foibles go away.  I am pointing out these things more as an acknowledgment to your possible experience with me.  I own that it happened, and I own my part in how I made you feel.  Hopefully, the good interactions help balance out the times when you want to slap me through the screen.

We need to own what we do online just as much as we need to own what we do in our face-to-face world; all actions have the potential to help or hurt whether they take place in virtual or actual space.

For these times and for the times I didn’t know enough to include, pardon me and forgive me.


1 Becky { 10.02.11 at 9:40 am }

“For these times and for the times I didn’t know enough to include, pardon me and forgive me.”
Simple and Beautiful. How different our world would be if we all took the time to say this to others in our own worlds.

2 HereWeGoAJen { 10.02.11 at 9:56 am }

I accept your apology, even if I have never felt slighted by you, and offer you one of my own. And I want to tell you that I love you.

3 Rachel { 10.02.11 at 2:25 pm }

What a beautiful post! I’ve been dragging my feet working on my apologies in real life, thank you for the motivation. You never cease to amaze me with your ways…

4 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 10.02.11 at 6:25 pm }

It’s very rare to people to own their online actions the way you do, but almost as rare in the face-to-face world.

Ketivah vachatimah tovah.

5 a { 10.02.11 at 8:13 pm }

What a lovely thought. Right back atcha!

6 Calliope { 10.02.11 at 8:48 pm }

beautiful post xo

7 Justine { 10.02.11 at 9:20 pm }

I like what Baby Smiling said about owning your actions … indeed, you are more thoughtful about what you put here than so many others I know. I’m grateful to know you and to read what you write!

I think I said this last year, too, but I have a friend who mass-apologizes every year … it elicits a conversation even if I haven’t talked with him in a while, and it always makes us realize that we ought to keep in touch better. I’m grateful for the time of reflection and awe!

8 Roccie { 10.02.11 at 10:11 pm }

You wrote me back one time and apologized for the delay…. my dear, I think it was less than 48 hours. The thing is, if I had put it out there I needed an immediate response, I betcha I would have gotten one…..

Great post – funny and heavy. The ultimate combo.

9 Bea { 10.03.11 at 9:11 am }

I love this idea. Thanks and no worries, and same from me twice over, yeah?


10 Kathy { 10.06.11 at 12:56 am }

Thank you. xoxo This was a beautiful post.

As an aside, at some point this week Keiko referred to the “Days of Awe” and I loved what I thought was a really awesome way to describe the stage of our lives that we are in… I didn’t realize that it was the translation of the description of the time between these holidays in your Jewish faith. That certainly makes sense know that I have the context you shared, but I also still like the meaning I had thought she intended and more that I had added in my own mind.

Anyway, I appreciate this post and your thoughtfulness as always. I realize you can’t possible “keep up” with all of us that read and comment on your posts, emails you or tweet or Facebook about you. But it certainly means all the more to me (and I imagine others), when you do find or make the time to connect with me and give me. xoxo Typing this on my iPhone and hoping it comes out alright. 🙂

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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