#BlogElul – Begin
Ok, so yesterday I wrote about being OK with things that aren’t finished. Today, I guess I’ll write about the complete opposite and write about the importance of finishing things.
I’m not very good at that. The other aspect of being a perfectionist and being very slow is that tasks take forever. And somewhere in the process, I get distracted and then I don’t finish the project. It sits on the shelf, being undone, and I can neither give it up – I started it after all – nor finish it, because I’m in the middle of five other things, and this one has fallen to the bottom of the priority list.
So, I have a bunch of stuff that I did begin but didn’t finish in my life, and in my head. There’s that sewing project and when I was going to learn a whole lot of things from piano to Tae Kwon Do and the huge papers pile to sort and I was going to go through the books, and the exercise program I was going to take up, and various work projects and the regular blogging too, of course.
It creates a mess, in my head (and in my house), that, fundamentally, is unacceptable. More and more of my thinking space gets filled up with these unfinished bits of plans and thoughts. I switch from thinking about things I have to take care of right now, to thoughts like “oh, I really should have finished… when can I get back to it?” This makes my current list of tasks slower too. Then they don’t get done, by the time some new task comes up that’s crucial. That’s a positive feedback loop that’s not at all positive (like global warming).
I try and try to let the old stuff go, but it is incredibly difficult! I began these tasks, after all. I claimed them and made them mine. Who am I to abandon them? When I begin something, I make a promise to myself and the world I live in that I will complete it. It seems wrong not to. And promises lead me to the “Kol Nidrey”.
This is the prayer, “All our Vows” that forms one of the highlights of the Yom Kippur service. When I was young and just learning about Judaism and didn’t know any Hebrew, I thought that this prayer, coming as it did in the eve of Yom Kippur had to be about saying sorry for something. For a long time I thought it was saying sorry about broken promises. I was shocked to find that actually, it wasn’t about the past at all. It was about the future. Because actually, I stink at keeping promises.
God knows this. God says, “let it go. If you can let go of the old projects, the ones that aren’t finished, if you can annul them as a way of closure and so finish them in your mind, then you can have projects that you do complete. And you won’t complete all of those either.”
On Kol Nidrey, we ask that the promises we’re going to break next year be annulled. That was super-weird to me. It’s a mega important prayer with a hauntingly beautiful tune that says “you’re not going to be able to do it.” I hate admitting that. I hate letting my project and promises go. But the history of Kol Nidrey reminds me that the promises I make and my ability to keep them isn’t always under my control.
This prayer used to be an absolution for Jews that made promises under duress, to escape prosecution. They didn’t want to have to keep them because they were bad promises. Also, this prayer would work to help those whose good plans were spoiled by prosecution – no matter one’s intention to light the Sabbath candles, if it would mean death at the hands of anti-Semites, that’s not a promise someone would keep.
I don’t have reasons like those for my broken promises to myself. Mine are more along the lines of distraction and poor choices, over-commitment and perfectionism, and similar problems which pale in comparison to those my ancestors faced. Still, I hear the Kol Nidre and realize that the “I’m going to do this every day, God” promise probably won’t make it through the year and God knows that and is cool with it.
So, that’s my hope for this year. May I let go of projects I can’t finish. May I begin only those I can. And should I begin something I can’t do, may the annulment prayer of Kol Nidrey remind me that I can’t do everything, and may I let it go and begin something else.