When I arrived in Los Angeles, I dove right in to the Jewish leg of my religious explorations by walking into synagogues at the appropriate times. Carrying out my goal of reconnecting with old pals was a bit trickier. Lisa, my friend who had acted as a lifeline to the old gang, tried to get everyone to meet up after the sun set on my first Sabbath. She sent out a group email and made reservations at a restaurant on Main Street. Becky and Deb replied that they couldn’t come, but Nina RSVP’d she’d try to make it.

Of all my high school buddies, I was surprised Nina’s the only one to accept as ours was always the relationship with the most friction. At times we acted like we were in a battle for who could be the biggest jerk. Last we had gotten together, 15 years earlier, she had stormed out. Her mother had died of cancer a year or so earlier and she seemed to be milking some residual neediness that irked me. Everything I said and did that afternoon communicated that I would not indulge her emotional fragility. When she scooped up her car keys and fled, I was officially the valor in our little war. We hadn’t spoken since—not even when her boyfriend was killed a few years ago.

Thinking about the afternoon I last saw Nina, I feel the hot burn of shame. What had she needed from me? To be hugged and fussed over a bit? Could I not offer my friend these small gestures of comfort? No, I couldn’t; as I see now, I was too terrified. I could not fathom that Nina’s mother had gone from vibrant to dead in a matter of weeks, the brain tumor that first made itself apparent on a trip to Israel, of all places—when her disorganized thinking alarmed her travel companions—metastasizing uncontrollably seemingly overnight. It was like Nina was a balloon and her mother had been her tether to the ground. After her mother’s death, Nina seemed to float aimlessly. I didn’t want this tragedy to be something that could happen and, if it had to be, I wanted proof that a speedy recovery was possible. I needed Nina to be regular Nina, not devastated Nina. I was so desperate for her to be okay that I refused to reach out and pull her to earth, even for a few moments.

I’ve beat myself up about it. I could not be there for my friend because I could not get past my own fear and anger. It’s no different from what motivated the behavior of the people Moses left at the base of Mount Sinai. They were terrified at having been left alone, so they reached for the quick-fix to soothe their anxiety. They did this forbidden thing because they were only human. After his initial fury, Moses calms down. He understood because he was human too. God is less sympathetic. He wants to smite them all and start over with a fresh group of people. Moses talks him out of this rage. New people would have the same faults. Moses comes back down from the mountain with another set of commandments; the people get a do-over. This list of guidelines from God represents the crux of the faith: behavior, not material things, should be your source of comfort. Your actions, doing the right thing, what you think and feel as you interact with others and the world around you, these are what God cares about; this is all anyone can know for sure. As I waited to see if Nina would actually show, I nervously hoped for my own little do-over.

27 thoughts on “Do-over

  1. Thanks for sharing something that must be painful to remember. Don’t we all want a ‘do-over’ for something in our lives. My problem with the God idea is that he would creat humans with this fearful self-centered quality. Maybe he wants a ‘do-over’ too.

  2. ha ha ha, I love it” “Maybe he wants a ‘do-over” too. It’s why I see all these stories as just that, stories that may or may not have a lesson for us and not something that really happened. And, yes, of course we get to give God a “do over” since we created him in our image and likeness. Oh..wait! It’s the other way around. Either way we get to live our choices and in Corinna’s case a different Corinna is about to meet her nemesis again. She will be different, of course because she’s been hanging out with us. 🙂

  3. Hello Corinna! Good morning to you and all.

    What you are talking about now……living with your own imperfections, regretting behavior from the past, agonizing over should haves and should have not’s……these are the biggies of life. The really, REALLY hard realities of facing yourself and your own behavior. You have spoken of the Jewish tradition of dealing with guilt and the Day of Forgiveness, and I am glad to have had the chance to explore them.

    Yet I still find the most consolation in my faith as a Christian, where I may say “forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive those who trespass against me” with it’s immediate succor and aid, emotionally. Were I in your shoes, that would be my invocation about Nina. Come to think of it, I have been in your shoes. And when you see her, if the opportunity arises, let her know that you regret not having been there for her when she needed you.

    What is important is that you seem to be there for her now. And your other friends.

    I hope your journey continues to be a good one.

    Yours in Christ

  4. Hi Corrina and Fellow Miners–

    Almost 19 years ago, I had to deal with the joy of my son’s impending birth combined with the tragically slow death of my father-in-law from cancer. Sometimes my concern for my wife’s health overshadowed the patience and compassion I should have shown her father and family. Who hasn’t done something they’d give anything to take back, or regret not doing something they should have? If we carry around the guilt and shame of each failure, we’d lose all hope of doing anything positive again. There’s a passage in one of Paul’s epistles where he calls out all the wrongs of his prior life, calling himself a murderer of early Christians. But he tells us he’s released the guilt because of God’s forgiveness. At first it seems way too easy and self-centered, this apparent self-forgiving. But it also leads to a new and much more positive way of life, along with the responsibility to give it another shot each time we mess up. And we all mess up.

    Besides our failures, we’ve all been effected by the failure of others. And, if we, as the “victim” of another’s failure, carry the resentment and anger, we’re doomed to a life of cynicism and suspicion. Surprisingly, in my experience, the targets of most of my failures almost never remember them, and when they do, they are nowhere near as judgmental of me as I’ve been on myself. We’re human, we have emotions, and sometimes those emotions cloud our judgment, But they’re also the same emotions that let you reach out to your friend, and hopefully her to you, after 15 years.

    • I wonder if we get better at self-forgiveness as we get older. I suppose it depends on what path we’ve chosen for ourselves. I’m 76 and I find myself far less judgmental with myself and others than I was twenty years ago. As soon as I wrote that I remembered how judgmental I can be toward the Jehovah’s Witnesses who show up here because of my own unkind history with them. Still, I recognize that they are people of faith also. But, by and large I am pretty much past lots of judgment I once held on to. I have such a feeling of the constancy of a non-anthropomorphic God in my life that I just live each day as it comes. I like to think I’m getting mellower and things that I thought mattered so much really don’t matter much at all. Life is good…..and getting better.

      • That’s a great way of approaching life, Frank. I’ve come to believe failing to forgive yourself after asking for forgiveness of God and others is a form of reverse narcissism. If you don’t forgive yourself, you’re basically telling God you know better than He does. I try to learn what I can from my mistakes, and leave the judging of myself and of others to Him

      • Frank, I find myself growing more forgiving about other people’s foibles and much looser about letting comments that I may have once found hurtful slide away. I think part of it has to do with realizing that I would like others to forgive my foibles and let my less-than-graceful comments slide away. I’m still working on the self-forgiveness but I think somewhere in the above process are the tools I need for the job.

  5. Corinna wrote:

    “Moses comes back down from the mountain with another set of commandments; the people get a do-over.”

    Interesting, but I don’t know if those 3,000 Israelites killed at the hands of Moses’ priests (in Ex 32:28) would exactly agree with your characterization of their deaths by sword as a “do-over”? I’d be fully on-board with the “do-over” analogy if you had used Aaron (Moses right-hand man, the one left in charge of the Israelites and who crafted the golden calf for them) for the analogy of the DEFO: he passed the buck by blaming the people, but HE emerged unscathed.

    PS wasn’t Noah’s Flood supposed to be God’s “do-over”, getting a fresh start after things had gone awry? God even repeated the blessing He gave to Adam and Eve, except to Noah and sons, telling them to “be fruitful and become many” just as He had done for Adam and Eve.


    • On reflection I could characterize my whole life as “do-over,” adjusting for sliced drives. Overlooking the overworked cliches, “same river twice,” “seemed like a good idea at the time,” I got lucky. maybe 30 years ago in realizing I can’t change what I did, but maybe I can fix some of the harm and adjust for the future. Lots of the minor hurts were misunderstandings on the inured’s part and some were knee-jerk reactions on mine. Perhaps arthritic knees are less jerky.

  6. Corinna, I appreciate the fact that, as an adult, you are feeling remorse about the way you treated your friend who lost her mother. I think that this is a very normal response for a teen….even a mature one. Mortality issues are pretty far off the radar when you are in your teen years…..and for most of us, our losses up til then have perhaps constituted a grand parent or older aunt. Some one, who in our eyes, were pretty “old” anyway. So along comes your mother’s friend who has the audacity to die and to upset the balance of life….at least in the realm of friendships. Lots of fear and pushing away. Pretty normal to react like you did. Was it kind? Not really. Was is supportive? Certainly not. But was it a normal reaction. Absolutely, in my thinking and experience. Which is all to say that perhaps it is not appropriate to beat one’s self up over this situation. It is great to acknowledge and to apologize for your teen age lapses…….and to forgive yourself, too. Someone up a ways used the word “nemesis” to label Nina….a little harsh, I think, even used in humor. She was doing the best she could at the time, too, no doubt. Adults will see this situation differently and will be able to sort through the emotions in a more understanding way….At least that is what I would expect and hope!

    Do I have experiences where I wish for a do over. Criminey. I guess so….many of them when you are as outspoken as I can be. But it is good to have age and maturity on my side. Frank especially talked about being mellower about forgiveness…..I do think that this can come with age, if we want it to. Personal story: When my husband died a few years back I sent xeroxed letters to MY friends telling them what had occurred. James’ diagnosis and illness and death had been within a 2 month span of time, so I was trying to let people know without having to make 20 phone calls. These were all people who had been longterm friends. Did I expect some response from each of them. I has hurting, I guess I did. So when I didn’t hear from two or three of them acknowledging James’ death, I was pretty agitated and irritated. How hard is it to send a card, anyway? As time has gone by since then, I have come to understand that not everyone….even 60 year olds…. can deal with death well. They have have lots of fear and they push away. And because of that understanding, I feel a sense of forgiveness toward them. Did it damage our friendships? In one case, yes it did. But that is the way of life, I think.

    I certainly look forward to the next installment, Corinna, and I am glad that you were able to re-connect with this part of your life. No matter what occurs!

    • Thank you, Merrill. Now, with a bit of perspective, I can see how death makes people act all sorts of strange ways. I’ve since had people close to me die and my experience with Nina has helped me understand why someone might be uncomfortable or say something awkward. I’ve come to appreciate even the clumsiest sorts of comfort from another.

      • Really….even the clumsiest sorts of comfort! I guess until you have had experience, you do not realize how even a slight pat on the back or a mumbled “I’m sorry” can be received as comfort. Condolences do not have to be perfect, for sure. MET

        • Similarly with grieving. It is rare for me to get teary at memorial/funeral services. It seems that while everyone else is shedding tears my eyes are dry. A few days later or in the quietness of my home the tears will often come. It took awhile for me to realize that my way of grieving is o.k. Once I realized it about myself I became less judgmental of others who had a variety of ways of grieving. And, yes, if the person is comfortable with it, a touch, a pat, a hug, no matter how slight can be more comforting than the words spoken.

      • Corinna, when I was about 14 I had a boyfriend whose parents were divorcing. We talked on the phone every night. For about a week all he could talk about was his parents and then one night he started crying. I freaked out; I didn’t know what to say. So, I was a completely insensitive jerk, wanting him to talk about me and acted like his parents didn’t matter. About eight years later my parents filed for divorce – and though I was an adult by then, I still grieved, and especially grieved for how I had treated him. I am sure he felt like he didn’t have a soul he could let down his guard with. I have always regretted my utter selfishness, discomfort, and insensitivity to his feelings. (He also lost his childhood home because his dad was a psychiatrist and his mom couldn’t afford their home.) Anyways, don’t know what happened to him… But it certainly has helped me stop and listen to hurting friends ever sense.

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