Atonement, Regret and Hope

Who doesn’t have regrets? We wouldn’t be human without them. Rosh Hashanah has already passed and Yom Kippur is on the horizon and I have been thinking of some of my regrets. I made a decision in college that was certainly appropriate at the time, but now, I regret that decision and wish there could have been an alternative. I attended the joint program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). Once completed, you earn two bachelor’s degrees, one from each institution. This program was rigorous and required taking more classes than if you were only attending one school. I worked hard, pushed myself through difficult times, emotionally, and realized in my senior year that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had enough credits to graduate Columbia but would still need another year at JTS to obtain that degree.
I took responsibility for myself and met with my dean at JTS. She was aware of my struggles and appreciated my situation. She respected my decision to leave JTS and move forward to obtain my Master’s in social work. I was thankful to her.
I was aware of what I would be missing as a result of not completing JTS: a philosophy class with Rabbi Neil Gillman (truthfully, I was terrified of taking a class with him, but knew I would be missing out), another Talmud class with Professor Kalmin who treated me exactly the same as other students who attended Jewish day school and therefore had more knowledge of Talmud than me. I would lose out on more history classes and more importantly, the community of friends that was so special and so familial.
At that time, I was proud to move on and ready to further my education in a different area. My regret now is that I lost that sense of completion when working toward a goal. I am not sure I would do it differently, if I had the choice, but there’s a part of me that wishes I stuck it out for that last year as I worked so hard and struggled with so much.
I was young and naïve during my college and post-college life. I thought I had all of the answers. When one of my closest friends asked me to be in her wedding, I said no. Because I thought I knew it all, I did not think she and her then fiancé should get married. We were all young but I ended up sacrificing an amazing friend and I ask myself, for what? I am not even sure I can answer that almost 20 years later. I regret this decision and have regretted this choice for all of this time. This was a friend who visited me in the psych unit during my junior year in college and who made me laugh constantly. It was my loss and the tears I have shed as a result of this have still not brought me peace. I openly apologize to her for making a mistake.
Regret is a funny thing. We do not have the power to turn back time and start again, however, we do have the power to move forward by using the energy that regret gives us where we can move on in our own way. How can I do this at this point? I hope to take some classes in the future where I can study more Talmud and philosophy. I also hold my memories of an amazing friendship and only wish her happiness and health.
Have I completely forgiven myself as a result of these regrets? I wish I could say I have, but I am still not there yet. I am very hard on myself but I pray with time I can give myself a break.
Life is not easy and we constantly travel on a narrow bridge (Kol ha’olam kulo Gesher tzar me’od – The whole world is a very narrow bridge) where we may veer off course and fall. The important thing is to travel with hope, strength and confidence (Vehayikar lo lifached klal – And the essential thing is not to fear at all). Then we are doing the best we can. These are the things I can do to cope with my regrets: active, meaningful and respectful acts, not only toward others, but toward me.