The West Wing has several memorable episodes, scenes, and dialogue exchanges. So much so that I can't really pinpoint a single scene or an episode and say, "yes, this is my favorite!" However, the exchange between President Bartlet and his staff about Yom Kippur made a deep dent in my mind. In that particular scene, he shares what someone had told him earlier that day about asking for forgiveness. On Yom Kippur, we ask for the forgiveness of God. But before that, on Erev Yom Kippur or the eve of Yom Kippur, we ask for the forgiveness of others we've harmed, sinned against -- common folk, friends, family, and people who would be friends and family otherwise except for this one incident you wronged them. You cannot ask for forgiveness for the sins you committed against God before you ask for forgiveness for the sins you committed against your fellow beings. This, he shares when they're contemplating how to share the news about the death of their children to the parents who'd lost them. It is very poignant and at the same time, wakes you up.
This scene plays in my head every now and then, for no rhyme or reason. And it always leaves me wondering how life would feel a little less heavy if I ask for forgiveness more readily, or think twice about how I'd have to live with something before doing it. I recently had a conversation at work about why refusing when someone asks something of us is almost reflexive. Similarly, defending, justifying, or worse shifting blame is mostly our first line of defense and later comes asking for forgiveness; almost as a plan B if plan A of getting away with it doesn't work out.
This is where walking in someone's shoes makes all the difference. If for a moment, we imagine ourselves to be in their place, would you have wronged someone in the first place? Would we hurt people? Would we say the things we say that ends up hurting people? Perhaps not.
Today is Erev Yom Kippur.
Though I don't believe in a superior being, I do like the philosophy of the day of atonement. If you think you're one step away from salvation and are seeking the final forgiveness for all your sins, you'd better do that to the common folk first.
I think it is important that I ask for forgiveness from everyone whom I've sinned against -- ranging from my kid sister whom I've hurt one too many times, for fun and, occasionally, in anger, to every individual who at some point felt that I wasn't giving them a fair treatment.
I'm going to make some calls and write some emails today. I may never receive someone's forgiveness for they may not feel I deserve it. But, I sure would feel better knowing that I'd taken the step. Knowing that would make things in life feel much less heavy.