Do I want to be bitter or better? Rabbi Irwin Kula posed the question today at Yom Kippur services, framing it in the recent passing of Emily Keyes by a vagrant gunman and the resulting request by her family asking people to go out and do random acts of kindness. It really is that simple. If each of us tried for the better instead of the bitter, we would be better off.
Bitterness led me to think of my divorce, over on paper, but lingering in my heart. I would be better if I weren’t so bitter. When holding onto the bitter, I have the illusion of hurting him, but it only really hurts me. The reality is that he has moved on. He doesn’t see that he ever did anything wrong. No matter how I feel, he won’t change, apologize, or even care. I’m still alone. So, do I want to be bitter or better?
The obvious is better. I’m having trouble moving from one to the other – even though it is only one letter away. One straight unbending letter, bending into a curving, enveloping letter. How can I get it to relax and move? Maybe Keyes’s family has the key…doing random acts of kindness, enveloping the world in a big hug, or just hugging someone in need.
During today’s Yizkor (the memorial service), I cried, releasing twelve years of stored up grief. Missing my mom. As a congregation, we meditated, with Rabbi Kula taking us on a journey to visit, however briefly, with our loved ones. Visualizing my mom. Talking with her. Telling her what has gone on this year. Telling her how lonely I’ve been without her to share the grief and the good times. I shared the heartbreak of the divorce, the joy of Shoshi pulling through her anger and blossoming into a wonderful young woman, the happiness of Bethany graduating and prospering, the heartache of having to kick JT out of the house (of course, hoping that he will find his way back home), and just sharing my life with someone I loved.
I told Mom about a man I met who can be a friend and someone with whom I can share my heart. Someone, who I was imagining sitting next to me, just being there, if I only dare to open my heart to allow him to see me as better, not bitter. The brittleness of bitter fractures us just as hard candy shatters into shards of candy glass. Whereas, the marshmallow softness of better can fill my heart and expand outward as it is warmed with love.
So, am I crying about love? Loneliness? Grief? All of it? More? But then there are random acts of kindness. As I sat in the back of the room, in the last row, alone, crying. Three different people came up to me and held me. Arms of comfort. Random acts of kindness. I choose love. I choose better. Goodbye bitter. Then finally saying what I long to say every day…I love you. The same words Emily Keyes text messaged to her family as she was held captive, awaiting uncertain death. Thank you Emily.