Foolish, bad decisions I made during a reckless transition out of my adolescence led to my arrest on August 11, 1987. Prison gates slammed and locked me inside cages and walls. For the next 9,500 days, I lived as a prisoner, frequently walking through puddles of blood that spilled from the violence inside.
Yet, during those 26 years I learned a great deal. Stories of the courageous men and women who endured the atrocities of Sobibor, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and other indignities inspired me. They convinced me that attitude and perceptions were the keys to emerging stronger than when guards first locked my body in chains and shackles. I learned by reading narratives that showed how men and women empowered themselves through a commitment to make a better world, despite the challenges they faced.
I regret my failure as a young man to learn from great leaders like Viktor Frankl, Elie Wiesel, and Primo Levi. Had I understood more about their philosophy on each individual’s responsibility to build a better society, I would not have engaged in the type of behavior that led to my imprisonment.
It is never too early or too late to receive such messages. When I concluded my obligation to the prison system on August 12, 2013, I knew a lot more than when those gates first slammed me inside and much more than when my descent into the vortex of crime began. I would have liked to know then what I know now.
Michael Santos is a motivational speaker who spent 26 years in federal prison. www.michaelsantos.com
Read Blogger Lia Mandelbaum’s response to Michael Santos’ Jewel HERE.
1978-2014. My younger self awaits me in that old home. He stares at the future that would be me; I ponder the past that was him. We connect on a bridge made of yearning and nostalgia. Hesitantly, we embrace.
We fall to our knees and sob. I ask if he ever told dad about how he bounced the ball that cracked the chandelier in our living room. He asks if I will ever stop doing and start being. I say, “You should have told the satin-haired girl you loved her when you had your hand on her shoulder for the school play.” He says, “Work less, love more.”
I advise, “Be patient and familiar with discomfort and loneliness – in those moments you will burst into expressions that will be me.” He advises, “Don’t judge me so harshly.”
“Don’t let others discourage you from dreaming. Failure is a suitcase full of regrets…I should know.” He urges, “Your gray hairs, your wrinkles, and your scars are signs of battles won.”
I beg, “Never hold tightly to someone who wants to go; never anchor a ship that must sail.” He asks why I came back to visit? I applaud him for not embarrassing the math teacher when she was unable to solve a problem to which he knew the answer. He insists, “Tell your patient her grim prognosis.” I disagree. “You are too young to understand. There comes an age where hope feeds hunger more than food. You have much to learn.” He tells me I have much to unlearn.
I wonder if my younger self was wiser than the older me. I wish to return into innocence, to be born into the freedom afforded only to children, to go back to Eden, and to throw the apple into the lake that echoes my love into eternity.
Afshine Ash Emrani is a cardiologist, Assistant Clinical Professor at U.C.L.A., a writer, and a mystic.
Freud wrote of a repetition compulsion. He thought that we reenact scenes or situations in our lives in an attempt to get a better result. Of course, if we ourselves have not changed, then the outcome will not change. So many of us go on making the same mistakes in new guises, wondering why things never seem to improve.
The essays in this wonderful booklet are about how to repeat the past differently, about how we ourselves can be different. Our souls need not be static. In the Torah, years after a bitter break, Jacob reencounters his brother Esau, and the meeting ends not inrecrimination, but in reconciliation and in tears. It changed
repetition into encounter.
What was your moment? Was there a time that you could revisit and relive as a lodestar for progress When I am tempted to despair, I recall certain moments that remind me I am lucky to be alive — like the moment my daughter was born, and the revisiting of that moment when I see her, eloquent and insightful, writing in this very booklet.
God, the prayers tell us, renews creation every day. We too can be renewed each day. Reach into your past to change your future. These wise meditations will help point the way.
David Wolpe is the Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.
The word for “return” in Hebrew is Teshuva. Teshuva is often translated as “repentance” although it literally means “return.” The sages understood that to achieve real repentance, we must first return to our true or purest selves.
This is a collection of stories about people looking back. What do they know now that they wish they knew then? What has changed? What has remained constant? As we prepare to move forward into the new year, the month of Elul is an opportunity to look back to the collective wisdom of our experiences as a guide for the future. May this book of Jewels be a source of inspiration for you to re-envision, to revise and to reimagine the trajectory of your life during this season of Teshuva.
My sincere gratitude to the contributors who shared their insights with us this year. I am also grateful to our new partners at Reboot and to Ken Blaker for designing and building our new Jewels APP. Finally a special thank you to the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, Sam Rotenberg, and Rick Lupert who have returned to the task of bringing Jewels of Elul to life.
May the coming year be filled with health, joy, and many fulfilling returns.
Craig Taubman is the producer of Jewels of Elul. www.craignco.com