09/24/2012 05:54 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2012

Putting It Into Words

Teshuvah, the Hebrew word for "return," is especially associated with these Jewish High Holy Days, and returning to a better self is the gift and opportunity these holidays provide.

In my home, each year at this time -- sometime before Yom Kippur -- I had to go to her room, my grandmother, that is... You see, she lived with us upstairs in her own "apartment," so to speak -- I had to go to her room sit down, eat the browned-up-oxygenated apple slices offered to me, and write a note of apology to each one of my parents.

On a white fold-over card, about 5x7, slightly embossed on the outside, it was as though my grandmother was using her finest stationery to provide my brother and me with the proper material with which to show appropriate deference to the seriousness of this occasion, to the seriousness of saying sorry, to the seriousness of asking forgiveness, to the seriousness of knowing there is always something to apologize for even when we don't know what that may be.

As I think about it, that is also why we -- together -- say so many prayers and sing so many songs "as a congregation" on these High Holy Days. It is communal chant. We speak for ourselves and we speak for all humankind. We ask forgiveness for what we may or may not know has been harmful to another. We ask in community. That is why we gather.

It is meant to be an opportunity.

In my family home, we were to hand-deliver the note to our respective parents, which we dutifully did.

Their reaction is a blur. I imagine only that we were well-received, hugged and reassured. What remains is that I remember it fondly.

Short of speaking the words in person, putting repentance in writing, writing it in my own hand and delivering it in person was a lesson learned early.

The lesson? Putting it into words and asking is the reward itself. Though often challenging to do, there is an immediate sense of relief and cleansing, of return to a more integrated self.

For more by Ruth Neubauer, click here.

For more on forgiveness, click here.