Summer months are notorious for binge watching and I confess I have done my share. With little to watch on the commercial channels and shows that have some merit being re-run anyway, anyone needing a distracting interlude can find something of interest in television or cable series on Crave TV or Netflix. One series in particular caught my attention – at least marginally. “Being Erica” aired in Canada on the CBC for four seasons beginning in 2009. I may have heard of the show but had little interest in watching it. But this past summer, a friend suggested to my wife that as someone interested in psychotherapy she might be interested in giving it a try. My wife was suffering from a cold at the time and was looking for something to stare at while she was nursing her cold at home. As I passed the screen from time to time I caught some of the action.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Erica Strange is a troubled young woman who begins to see at therapist at a low point in her life. She is thirty-two, Jewish, and recently fired from a mindless job for which she was overqualified. She struggles with failed relationships and coping with the death of her brother. The therapist, Dr. Tom, who likes to quote great thinkers, offers her a unique therapeutic approach: she can go back in time and revisit those events in her life that she wishes to so over. At each instance – from her childhood, teens, and adult years – she faces the same choices again, this time doing things differently. Sometimes her choices have an impact on her life of the life of others, sometimes not. But each encounter allows her to grow more comfortable with herself. The series ends with Erica becoming a therapist.
Among the more poignant moments that I caught is seeing Erica learning to empathize with her mother’s odd behavior at a party announcing her unmarried sister’s pregnancy with her boyfriend when going back in time reveals that her mother became pregnant as a teen and gave up her child for adoption, burying the entire sordid affair rather than suffer the stigma of the times. Erica relives her last conversation with her deceased zayde at a Purim-party gone sour. She allows him to see that each person and each parent must live life as they see fit and not as their parents do. At the same time, she rests easier knowing that her final conversation with her grandfather does not end in a fight.
While the premise of being able to go back in time and change the outcomes of one’s life is fantastic, it speaks to a theme relevant to Jews at this time of year. With the approach of the Days of Awe Jewish tradition directs us to look inward, take a spiritual inventory, and amend the wrongs we have committed. For millennia Jews have asked the same fundamental question with which Erica Strange grapples: how much better could our lives be if we change the past? For Jews, however, the answer lies not in passing through a portal to the past and doing things over. Instead, the solution lies in redressing our errors in the here and now rather than erasing our errors by undoing them. The former is possible; the latter is not.
Every person is an Erica. And in trying to be the best person we can be, we look to the future, not to the past.