If you define forgiveness as simply accepting someone’s apology, then you’ve taken just one baby step toward the bridge that Rabbi Karyn Kedar would like you to cross. Because on the other side of the bridge is a world where forgiveness finds relevancy in almost everything we say and do. Just some of the lessons taught are forgiving yourself, forgiving others, and forgiving the fundamental unfairness of life. Alternating between poetry and essays that often draw inspiration from the natural world, Kedar elevates forgiveness into a spiritual practice.
Kedar’s meditations on forgiveness touch on themes ranging from love, to loss, to anger, acceptance, learning, and restoration. Her insights can be counterintuitive and quite refreshing, as in the essay that deals with choosing your friends. Take inventory of the people in your inner circle, Kedar implores. Decide whether each is a “taker” or a “sustainer.” Takers are those who bore you, or who are critical or judgmental. Sustainers are the ones who bring meaning and understanding to your life, “whose chatter is interesting. Who nourish your soul.” Her take-home message here is not to forgive the takers because they don’t realize how destructive they are. It’s to distance yourself from those people — and to forgive yourself for doing so.
While the majority of her entries are thought-provoking, if not profound, Kedar’s prose tends toward flowery, and she occasionally stretches the notion of forgiveness too far. Take her essay about a family ski trip in which her daughter, Shiri, skis into a tree. Although Shiri’s body is unscathed, her ego is deeply wounded. Shiri decides not to ski anymore and cries herself to sleep that night. “It’s OK to fear the mountain, but you should also respect yourself,” Kedar writes, correctly pointing out that the sport involves fear, confidence, risk, and competence. She tells us that Shiri wakes the next morning with courage renewed and gets back on the slopes. But the first and only reference to “forgiveness” in this essay gets shoehorned into the very last line: “Forgiveness is the interaction of fear and confidence, risk and competence.” Huh?
Despite minor weaknesses, this book— its pages adorned with images of a footbridge and a bird in flight — would make a lovely, inspiring gift to anyone in your inner circle — the sustainers, and especially the takers.