Everyone makes mistakes. Obviously. Some mistakes are annoying. Like tonight, when I put my new black jeans in the wash and turned the rest of the laundry grey. Some mistakes are funny. Like when I was introduced to a now-friend for the first time, and he misheard my name, calling me Libby for about two months before I worked up the nerve to correct him. And some mistakes have serious consequences. Like forgetting your contraception, or marrying someone who’s bad for you (I’ve only done one of these).
My own mistakes have been weighing heavily on my mind, though. Specifically, my past-relationship mistakes. As I have mentioned in a recent post, I have consistently and repeatedly chosen the wrong men. There is one notable exception – a relationship with a lovely man, but which just didn’t work out. But by and large I have chosen men who are too old, too drunk, too angry, too dishonest, too arrogant … and a few weeks ago it hit me like a thunderbolt that, whilst these men were undoubtedly responsible for their own behaviour and actions, I was the one who kept choosing to be with them. The reprehensible behaviour was theirs. The mistakes were mine.
I began to lose all faith in my ability to ever choose a happy, healthy relationship. It all started to feel doomed to be one big mistake. I talked it through at length with my counsellor, and discovered that making mistakes has always been a problem for me. Since school I have always had high expectations of myself, and I have never coped well with falling short – I have always picked over my mistakes and been critical of myself for achieving less than perfection. After a lot more work with my counsellor I started to see a way forward. We unpicked my past relationships and started to understand the reasons behind my mistakes. I began to feel a glimmer of positivity, that maybe next time could be different. I allowed myself to think that maybe, one day, I would be with someone who made me truly happy.
Then last week I had an argument with someone who knows me very well, and whom I love very much. And I was left feeling hurt and shaken … because the crux of the argument was centred around their implied belief that I would continue to make the same mistakes again and again, and that I am unable to choose a partner who does not hurt me. The implication was that, due to this person’s love for me, they would prefer me to stay single forever, rather than be in a relationship – because there was no doubt in their mind a relationship would crush me again. Because of my own inevitable mistakes.
I walked away feeling bruised, and in turmoil. Only a day earlier I’d been filled with a new positivity that I could leave my mistakes behind me, yet now here they were, being used against me and waved around in front of me with the promise that I would never be free of them. It felt like I had reached a new low. I was nothing but the sum of my mistakes.
Then yesterday I was talking to a friend about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which is a couple of days from now. Just over a week later is Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance. The ten days which start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur are known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance. This is a time for serious introspection, in which we consider and remember our sins of the previous year and try to put them right.
And as I discussed my plans for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with my friend, he said something that stopped me in my tracks. “I like Yom Kippur” he asserted. “It reminds me that I am not my mistakes”.
I am not my mistakes.
I had never heard anyone talk about Yom Kippur like this. But it made perfect sense. Yom Kippur is a reminder that our mistakes do not define who we are, and more importantly, that each of us can always have the chance to try to put our mistakes right and endeavour not to repeat them.
I have also learned this week that the Hebrew word for “sin” (“chet“) is derived from an old archery term used when an archer “misses the mark.” This informs the Jewish view of sin: all people are essentially good and sin is a product of our errors, or missing the mark, as we are all imperfect. A critical part of Rosh Hashanah is making amends for these sins and seeking forgiveness. (Source: http://judaism.about.com/od/holidays/a/Most-Important-Things-To-Know-About-Rosh-Hashanah.htm)
“Missing the mark” feels like exactly the right way to describe my past relationship mistakes. I have gone into each one with hope and positivity. I made every choice with the right intentions. I wanted the best each time. But somehow I just kept missing the mark. This doesn’t mean I was a bad person or, as I have been worrying, that there was something intrinsically wrong with me. It just means I made mistakes, because I am human and we are all imperfect.
Of course I have made mistakes in the past year that go beyond poor relationship decisions. I have sinned. And I will use the Days of Awe to reflect on this, and try to put things right. I will genuinely try to be a better person in the year to come than the person I was in the year that has passed. But I will also keep reminding myself that I am not my mistakes. My mistakes are separate from me. I will acknowledge them, consider what I can learn from them, and then put them to one side and walk away.