Reflections on Yom Kippur

It’s Yom Kippur today. I’ve been told that the English translation is poor and it’s not quite the Day of Atonement, but rather the Day of Return. Of returning to perfect communication between you and God. Of making peace and amends with those you’ve hurt or have hurt you, and coming into a new year with a clean slate. What are the barriers separating you from God? my friend Chen posed yesterday at dinner. To me, God is all that is, the great humming body of humankind and Earth and the universe. God is ever-changing, never static, the flow of things between my physical body and all of those around me, the infinite dependencies that I have on all things in this moment and that they have on me.

When I think of loneliness, my mind is already in a state of separation from God. There can be no separation between me and not-me, for without all that is not-me -- the sunshine and cool air, the water, the stones that form this house, the guavas sold fresh at the bus station -- I would be something entirely different than I am now. My body wouldn’t exist in its current form. Loneliness is a state of confusion, a lack of clear seeing of my infinite connections.

Yes, my heart protests, but what is the sorrow and fear I feel when I’m alone sometimes? When I’m lost and tired in the scorching dust of Hebron, trudging towards a bus to Jerusalem? When nobody else is walking next to me as I hand over another 15 shekels for a taxi to an empty home? And worse yet, what is the feeling when I have nothing to do, and I’m bored? When there is no energy to get out of bed in the morning?

If the body is the source of truth, loneliness is a hollow stomach and a dearth of energy. It is the fear that I could wander away and nobody would notice or care. Sometimes I ruminate on my loneliness, wondering if I will ever find partnership and love. Other times, I pour myself into problem-solving, messaging friends to hang out, hoping that lunches and walks will cover the hollowness in my heart.

If I were to befriend my loneliness and to create a community of two, what shape might my loneliness take? I imagine my loneliness as an black hole, the color of the sky at midnight and having endless depth and indeterminate size. It is like a balloon that I can attach a string to, and can carry around as I walk. I don’t have to hide it at home or wish it away or transform it.

For my loneliness is not separate from the rest of me. In loneliness, I can see the many other facets of me: the joy of sharing a meal or afternoon ice cream, the energy of collaborating on an inspiring project, the magic of catching a school bus across the Dominican Republic, of coming home to the smell of my mom’s ham soup. I can see people I love in my loneliness, and the possibility of this love arising again. Those things once were and no longer are, and soon this present moment will change too.

So maybe it’s not completely true that loneliness is a state of separation from God. Looking back, this feels like judgment of my experience disguised as spirituality. Instead, maybe my loneliness (along with my anger and fear and anxiety) can be integrated into my experience with love and acceptance. Maybe nothing is separate from God: even the perception that I am separate from God is included in God.