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Shame On Me

Miri Hecht

I didn’t share it. It was hard enough for me to live with the recollection. I couldn’t stand the thought of letting anyone else in

Thursday, October 06, 2016

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E Embarrassment is what sits with you for 20 minutes. Or sometimes, even 20 days or 20 months. Once in a while, you think about it, remember it, feel embarrassed.

Shame is what sits with you for 20 years and it’s always there, sitting just beneath your skin, so every scratch or bruise or bump brings it back to the surface.

I hurt someone. Could never let it go because I wasn’t just embarrassed, I was full of shame. And it was there, there right below the surface, never leaving me, never giving me peace. Sure there were moments — days, maybe even weeks — when I wasn’t thinking about it. Births. Bar and bas mitzvahs. Weddings. Life’s most significant moments often intrude. But even so, shame was always building inside, threatening to rain down pain on me.

It was all mine, and only mine. Embarrassments are sometimes, even often, shared. Shame? Not so much. I didn’t share it. It was hard enough for me to live with the recollection. I couldn’t stand the thought of letting anyone else in.

And then, one day 20 years later, I talked. I shared it. Everything spilled out of that storm cloud, in great drops of pain and ice and cold. It didn’t solve anything, couldn’t solve anything, but what a relief. A long-evaded first step on a winding road, and that first step is always the scariest. But if I could do this, take the first step and tell one person, then maybe I could take the second step and tell two.

And then…

She calls.

Less than 24 hours after I share the shame for the first time, she calls me, although I haven’t heard from her in two decades.

She’s in town. She’s just saying hi.

I’m in absolute shock.

I can apologize.

If I have the guts.

I’m scared to death, but I have to do this. How could I possibly ignore the Divine setting of the stage, complete with props and cue cards? I can’t. I can’t. What, throw His gift — sent express — back in His face?

“Do you want to get together for a coffee?” I ask.

“Well, I’m leaving tomorrow, and I really want to go to the Kosel.”

Better and better.

Harder and harder.

I write out what I want to say. We meet at the Kosel, greet, chat, make small talk as we head down to daven.

I don’t know what she’s praying for, but I’m begging for His help to say what I need to say, in the way she needs to hear it. Not too much, not too little. Just to do my part to make it right. There’s no dress rehearsal. This is opening night and closing night in one, and then the curtain will come down.

I back up. Back. Back. Back. Out of the plaza. And I wait. She’s still davening. I reread my speech. I shake. Reread it again.

And then she’s there. “Ready to go?” 

“I need to say something first,” I say. 

I say it. It’s my rehearsed speech but full of fresh heart. I tell her about holding on to 20 years of shame. I tell her about finally sharing it, just yesterday. How less than 24 hours later, she called me. And how I’m sorry if I’m bringing up painful stuff, sorry if I’m getting this all wrong, but I can’t ignore Hashem giving me this one chance to tell her that I’m so, so sorry.

She looks at me for a long time. “Boy, you have guts,” she finally says.

“It wasn’t easy.” 

“No, I can see that.”

“I’m asking for mechilah.”

“I’m moichel.”

One chance. I took it. 

I opened myself up, took the first step, and look at the results. 

Deliverance from decades of shame. 

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