Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Sleeper Must Awaken: Personality Faults

The Folly of Youth

One of the telling changes that had taken place in my life is the idea of recognizing that I am a man of many imperfections. This was very difficult to come to terms with because for a number of years I was so used to always being right, or thinking I was always right. I think that as a child I developed a defense mechanism to being picked on by bullies and made to feel lower than others. In my defense I became the type of person who was a know it all and I sought to always gain the attention of others.

Often instead of listening and valuing the perspectives of other people my belief that I had a superior logic became a justification for hurting people. I became someone who was alone, not because I wanted to be, but because I was an unpleasant person to be around. Instead of realizing there was a time to make jokes and be funny and a time to be serious I chose to try and be funny at every turn. Instead of comforting people in their time of need my needs were the only things that were important to me. Instead of keeping my words in check I would often say the first thing that came to my mind, without any consideration to the nature of my statement. These faults I carried around like badges of honor for a number of years not knowing them to be faults, but instead believing them to be advantages.

The Mistake of a Lifetime

That all changed with several mistakes I made with a woman who will be known as Sha’ah. I met her at a conservative synagogue that I sometimes frequented. She was beautiful and passionate about matters of Judaic history. She had lived in Israel for a number of years after feeling a connection to Judaism while growing up in Shri Lanka. I admired her logic and knowledge base, but at the time I did not have the tools to respect her in the correct way. I made a series of mistakes with her that to this day I regret with all of my soul.

It all began when one day I heard her involved in a debate on Judaism and decided to walk with her as she went home. Now mind you, this was before she knew me and it was during a time when I was quite a show off and really annoying. During this conversation I went into the “say what ever comes to your mind mode.” I made this mistake with her not just once, but several other times until the last time someone brought it to my attention that I was being offensive. After this was brought to my attention my eyes began to open and I finally realized that I had made a mistake. I went home feeling fear that the things I said were completely out of line, and that I made a very serious mistake.

A few weeks later when Yom Kippur was drawing near I saw Sha’ah at the synagogue and she mentioned that she wanted to speak to me. I immediately tried to apologize, but Sha’ah beat me to the punch. She brought up the things I had said and done and how disrespectful they were. I can say that I felt like was being punched left and right, and it was all justified. She ended with a statement that I will never forget, “For someone who tries to act so religious you sure are secular.” This was like a knock out punch and all I could do was respond that I was really sorry. She did not call me out based on hatred, but because I was not standing for the principles of Torah that I talked so much about.

Regret and Hurt

After we parted ways that day I was really depressed because everything she said was true. I was not living up to the lifestyle that I tried to paint in the public eye. It was also an issue where I had gotten so used to being a hypocrite and this caused me to look past my own faults. I walked home that day feeling like I wanted to die (more figuratively). I remember wishing I would be hit by the next uptown bus. It was as if the offensive words I had spoken had wings and they flew to and fro taunting me for I could not jump high enough and move fast enough to retrieve them. The damage had been done and as they say, “loose lips sink ships.” Well, in this situation the iceberg had already done its damage and the Titanic was on the bottom of the ocean.

I arrived home that day in a deep sense of self-pity over how I had acted and I felt like I had disrespected God and every generation before me. I lay in bed the rest of the day and that night feeling as If I was sick, but I was in perfect health. My room felt dark even though the sun light clearly shown through my window. I felt like my life was a prison and I was the greatest of fools that walked the earth. As night came the moonlight burned deep into my soul because I could not stand up the light. I cringed in fear feeling as if was unclothed and exposed for all to see to my very own shame.

I went through a deep state of depression over my mistake with Sha’ah for about week not knowing which way was right or left. I could not pull myself to look people in the eyes for it was as if my faults were on display. If life was a circus my faults were now at center stage to see. “Everyone step right up and see Ehav Ever the freak show fool who thinks he so holy. Look at how low he has sunk.” My faults were now on display for people to see and mock while their children threw peanuts at Ehav the sideshow freek. As the song by the Stylistics says, “Let the side show begin. Everybody step right on in. Can’t afford to pass it by, guaranteed to make you cry.”
“What is this? A heroic stand? You're the wrong guy for it. You'll be all alone in the spotlight. And guys like you can't stand up to that light. You'll burn up under it.”

Snake Eyes - Nicholas Cage and Gary Senisi
Shaking In Fear Before The King of All

Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) came and I remember sitting in synagogue shaking in fear. I felt as if at any moment I was going to be struck down by fire from the Heavens. I hid myself for the entire service within my tallit (prayer shawl) so that no one could see me. Even if they did not know what I had done it was as if they could see through me and my pain was real. The fasting that takes place on Yom Kippur was nothing to one who now stood before a King that I could not coerce or divert by using petty logic to slide away from my responsibility. There was no negotiationing and there was no feigning my responsibility. I messed up and I felt like I was going to pay dearly for it. At that time I was praying at an Ashkenazi synagogue and the liturgy echoed the pain that I felt over my faults and how distant I was from the person I thought I was. The Fear of Heaven was upon me, and nothing that anyone told me made me feel any better.

For about two months after Sha’ah had confronted me I hid in the shadows whenever she was in the same place as me. If she was somewhere with a balcony I would hide in the back of the balcony. If she came into a public area I would quickly move away into the less public areas. I also became distant from not just her, but other people as well. I was afraid of their eyes pearing through my soul and they would be able to see all of my mistakes. I would be exposed as someone who thought he was so religious, but instead I was a big fake. I began to think back over my life and I considered the fact that if I had disrespected her in this way more than likely I had been disrespecting other people in the same way. I never liked being wrong, because when I was a kid the bullies who would pick on me would wait for me to make mistakes and then make me pay for it. Mistakes also made it obvious that I at that time I was becoming a real two faced person, and I began to wish I had never been born.

With this realization I began to understand that I had a problem. I had a problem that I had never taken into account most of my life. So I began to take a long and hard journey back through my past and I analyzed all my dealings with people and I began to see a pattern. I saw a pattern of hypocrisy, loose conversation, disrespect of others, and a total lack of control in my conduct with others. It was then that the fear of Heaven fell upon me as I soon saw that Sha’ah was not the first person I had made these kind of mistakes with. During a phone conversation with an old friend who knew me during my Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity days, I mentioned the incident with Sha’ah to her. As I described to my friend my actions she mentioned that she, along with others, had noticed the same kind of issues with me going back several years. I was stunned and amazed and I fell to the floor in shock that I had walked in this mindset for so long and no one had called me out on it.
“Be a tail of lions, not a head of foxes. Seek the company of people who are spiritually and morally superior to you, even though you may feel inferior in their midst. Conversely, avoid those who are spiritually and morally inferior to you even if it makes you happy to appear outstanding in their midst.”

Minhath Shelomo: A Commentary on the The Book of Prayer of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, by Haham Dr. Solomon Gaon (edited by Gertrude Hirschler), Union of Sephardic Congregations, 1990, Page 159 (Taken from the Hirsch Siddur, P. 483)
Lost, But Can He Be Found?

I began to feel lost for a long while. It was like walking through the Sahara with no compass, no water, and most of all no company. These kind of conditions can do a lot to a man, especially when he at first thought he knew his way. What I thought was a compass was nothing more than my own fake sense of morality. What I thought was water was actually the hard liquer of overconfidence in my own logic. What I thought was an entire brood of compatriots were actually shadows of people I thought I was close to. When you are stranded in the desert because of your own folly, want and desire can turn to anger.

I became angry that no one had said anything to me about my behavior and no one thought to confront me as Sha’ah did. My anger at others then became redirected in the proper direction, and I became angry with myself. How dare I walk this long studying Torah and not have the basic concepts of respect mastered and proper personal conduct. I felt ashamed at this point and I mourned for the loss of so many good people in my life. People whose friendship I may have lost because of my own behavior and the fact that for most of them I would never have a chance to set things right.

Anger flowed through my veins and this became rage at the dark image of myself who I felt was laughing at me. As I looked in the mirror I saw a face that I didn’t recognize but it professed itself to be me. I saw a false perception of Ehav Ever delighting in the damage he had done. The worst part about it was this was not some other image or a demonic possession, this was the person who I was currently living to be. Yet, as rage took over my very being I found myself hating this false image of myself that took delight in my fall. I saw something else in the mirror of my soul and that was a brief glimpse of someone else. For a moment I saw the person who I should have been and that it was not too late for this person to shine through, yet something had to change and my priorities had to shift.

That is when the darker image of myself laughed and boldly stated, “What? You don’t like me……so what. This is who you are 100%. Are you disappointed with me? Well, what are you going to do about it?” It was then in my rage and anger against myself that I decided that I was going to change my life and overcome that dark image of myself. No matter what it took I was going to take charge of my life and defeat my inclination to do evil. So it was in anger that the real me stood up and punched the darker image of myself. I attacked the darker image with all my might, and all my fury. I attacked him for the time I pushed Jai out of my life in college, I gave an upper cut to this darker image for the time I made that little girl cry in the volunteer program because I taunted her in jest. I grabbed the darker image and threw him down for the time I made fun of Devin on the school bus. I then put the darker image in a head lock for the times I constantly picked on Sean in high school. I then kicked the darker image in the mouth and boldly stated, “Shut up. You are no longer in charge. I am taking over from here!” The darker image of myself cowered and ran away vowing to return when I least expected.

It was then that my soul yelled out for freedom and the real Ehav took my soul by the hand and pulled it out of the mud and the mire. As I pulled my soul out of the crevices I had forced it into so many years ago I felt an overwhelming sense as if God approved of this decision. I felt as if God had hidden certain parts of His light because in the state I was in I would burn up under that light. It was with this one action of acknowledging my faults that the clouds in my life parted and night faded. Then the sun rose on my life and its warmth was a delight to me, but I had a lot of work to do.

The Chance of a Lifetime to Change

So I began to really study the Tanakh (Hebrew bible) and I took stock in the proverbs and life lessons that it taught. I began to work on meditating on my thoughts before I spoke and with a short amount of time I found myself being more respectful to people. I cut my ties with elements of my life that prevented me from seeing clearly through the lenses of true spirituality. My focus became on matters of self-perfection and my devotion was to the love of the tender principles of discipline of mind. I called out to God in all of my imperfections and he heard me and answered in my times of needs. It was through this process that I began to love God even more and walking according to Torah was my desire day and night.

With each passing day I became a new man and I delighted in each area of progress. As I began to transform my life I was overwhelmed with a joy that I had never known before. Morality became my best friend and truth became my first love. Real knowledge grounded in humility was to me a home built on firm ground. When I next looked in the mirror I saw someone that I could be proad of. It was out of the fear of disrespecting God and my heritage that I began to fight for a better sense of self. I took my attack deep with the darkest recesses of my soul and I brought light to areas that been left in disrepair since my childhood. As I opened the windows of my heart to the light of Torah my entire soul began to rejoice. A new day began to dawn and I became a more complete man.

The Apology

Yet, there was still something else that had to be done. I needed to put to rest my mistake with Sha’ah and bring everything full circle. It had been a year since the time when Sha’ah confronted me and I knew that before Yom Kippur I needed to face her and officially ask for her forgiveness for my actions in the past. So I called Sha’ah and we met for coffee in midtown Manhattan. I began by explaining to her how I fallen from the path earlier in my life and how much I hated the person I had become. For much of the conversation it was difficult for me to look her in the eyes, because I had become so accustomed to never saying I was sorry. Yet, I told her that I wanted to thank her for confronting me and bringing these issues to light. I owed her a huge debt of gratitude and I was truly sorry for the things I said and did. I believe my exact words were.
"Sha'ah. I called you here tonight because I made a huge mistake a year ago with you. I said and did some things that have brought shame to everything I was supposed to stand for, and those who taught me everything I know. I am so sorry for everything I said and did a year ago. I thought for so long that I was living a certain way, but when you called me out I realized that I was far from the standard that a real man is supposed to live up to. I felt so bad for the past year because of my action, and I want to ask for your forgiveness. I am truly sorry."
Sha’ah accepted my apology and an enormous weight was lifted from my being.

The Sleeper Has Awakened

As we left the coffee shop Sha’ah said, “I just wanted you to know that I noticed a change in you and I am proud of you.” These words were truly uplifting and I quietly thanked her for her kind words. We both parted ways that night and I felt stronger about the direction my life had taken. At the same time I regretted that I couldn't start over with her and tell her that I liked her, but at least I now had the tools to face my darkest character traits and conquer them. I am the master of destiny because God created me with the ability to face my shortcomings. Thanks to a woman who was not afraid to speak truth when it needed to be heard I came one step closer to the real Ehav Ever.

“Live with a man 40 years. Share his house and meals speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge and on that day you will finally meet the man.”

Joss Whedon's Serenity - Episode War Stories


diva said...

I can't relate on a religious way, but I can in a secular way. I remember when I was just out of college-fresh with my liberal academic progressive -isms view of the world-and I tended to look down on people who did not fit into my checklist of beliefs. Part of maturity was realizing that I had some serious deficits and character flaws and working to overcome them.

Miriam said...

wow, Ehav. that was very personal and very deep. If you could write this, you rae definitely not that same person long ago.

I wonder if you might be interested in Miriam Adahan's Awareness book. It was really an eye opener.

The following webpage is no where near as concise as the book but its like a brief brief summary:

Miriam said...

In particular number 6 (and 7 to a smaller degree)

Ehav Ever said...

Diva - Thanks for stopping by as always. I know what you mean, even before I became religious I started to notice that I had some qualities that were pushing people away. I also was somewhat elitist. I am glad that I was able to overcome those things because life has been better since.

Miriam Yes, I have grown a LOT since that time, and I am glad I took a year to figure out where I went wrong. Some of my old friends couldn't understand why I was harping so much on the situation. If they had felt like I felt that Yom Kippur they would have completely understood.

I looked the web-site you gave. It is interesting. I am going to have to spend some time reading it over some more. Also, I got your message and thanks. To you and your family.

תכתבו את הספר החיים וגם הספר הזיכרון