I’m sorry I gossiped. I’m sorry I lied. I’m sorry I opened my big fat mouth again. These days are days of self-reflection and atonement for me. Every year between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I promise to have a better filter, to be more discreet, to just shut up. These are the days of Awe, but I think of them as the days of “Aw,” as in, “Aw, why on earth did I say that?”
Twenty-five years ago I spoke up to a friend whose baby had a tendency to projectile vomit over my furniture. “Since your kid throws up all the time, do you think you could bring a few cloth diapers with you to clean up?” I asked, perhaps inferring that her kid was a little less than perfect. She didn’t talk to me for six months.
And that is when I made up the first of my ten “Aw” Commandments. The other nine developed with time and experience.
- Do not mention or infer to another parent that there is anything remotely wrong with their kid.
- Never betray a child’s confidence.
- Do not assume pregnancy, as in “how far along are you?”
- Do not comment about anyone else’s weight, including the quantity of food they have just consumed, as in, “wow, that was such a big portion. How did you manage to eat all of that?”
- Do not ask how much somebody has spent on anything.
- Do not give your adult child unsolicited advice.
- Do not complain about your spouse to your parents.
- Start each criticism with a compliment.
- Do not beat things to death by repeating them more than…well I don’t know the right number, but I’m sure it’s somewhere north of thirty.
- When in doubt, shut your mouth.
I’ve mastered a few of these, but they are not easy. I’ve been known to start a conversation with my kid that begins, “that was a really stupid thing to do.” I’ve asked women I didn’t know when they are due. I still criticize my children in the first ten seconds of conversation, and I have been known to comment on their food choices. I regret it each and every time I say something I shouldn’t, and then wonder how my family members could all love me so much.
“Aw, why would I say that?”
I blurt out hurtful things without thinking. My emotions get to me before my brain has a chance to process what I should say. I forget to say, “Happy New Year, wonderful, accomplished, beautiful child!” before I ask, “is that what you are wearing to temple?” And then I go and ask for forgiveness.
Even as I sit in temple and pray, I am tested. Of course the rules hardly ever seem clear in the moment. Two years ago, I couldn’t help but notice an elderly woman a couple of rows ahead of me at temple. From behind, her bright blue suit was beautifully tailored. Her short hair was dyed a deep black, but where it was thinning in the back, I noticed an irregularly shaped black mole on her white skin. “Mike, do you think she knows about the mole?” I whispered. “What if it’s skin cancer and she doesn’t know it because she can’t see the back of her head in the mirror? Should I tell her?”
“Of course not,” he whispered back to me. “Mind your own business.” But all through the service, while repenting for my big mouth, I tried to think of a nice way of saying, “Do you know you have a big ugly mole on the back of your head and it looks like it might be cancerous?’
I shut up that day, but I didn’t see that woman again the following year, and I never stopped wondering whether she was a guest of our synagogue that year, or I could have saved her by breaking “Aw 10” and speaking up.
Last year it happened again. Two seats to the left and a row ahead of me, I noticed a rather large bug crawling up the back of a woman’s arm. It was clearly heading for the neck and then was going up to her abundant hair. “Tell her about the bug!” I pointed and whispered to Mike. “It’s gonna get lost in the hair.”
But before he could answer, I reached over and slapped that woman on the back. “Sorry,” I said, “…huge bug.” When she gave me a rather odd look, I decided not to tell her that she better have that suit cleaned before she wore it again.
I’m anxious to see what the big guy is going to throw at me this year, but in case I forget, Happy New Year wonderful, beautiful, accomplished children. I’m sure you will all be dressed appropriately when I see you in the morning.