Complexity and gratitude as 5777 begins
Mid-October 2016. As life unfolds – and it does keep doing that, doesn’t it? – things change. Some things change in a way that let’s you immediately see the good in them – you recover from a bad illness; you earn the degree you’ve been after for so long and are no longer a student; you work hard and get the job you’ve wanted/get to retire. For those kinds of changes you feel excited and grateful. Then there are the times that things suddenly change and all you feel is a sort of numbness enveloping your heart. With those changes it’s incredibly hard to believe the old “one door closes, another opens” maxim. Those are the changes that challenge us the most, that demand of us a kind of strength and endurance and even courage to keep on going and keep on growing. All of creation is questioned. Messages like “hang in there” and “you’ll get through this” sweep through your mind even as you try to focus on the warmth of the sunshine (yes, it’s actually shining here today) and the glory of the season when everything turns from the verdant richness of summer to the resplendent display that autumn in Ontario offers.
My relationship with DW has ended. By the time we reach our mid-60s/mid-70s we’re pretty much formed as people, hopefully knowing what is most important to us and where we should spend our time and our energy. After four years together we came to the conclusion that the differences – in our backgrounds, our political affiliations, our spiritual connections, our family histories, our temperaments – were too big to sustain a longer-term relationship … even one that included so much love and sharing. And so today, with incredible sadness in my heart, I said goodbye to him this afternoon. At that very moment it felt like I would never feel happiness again. Those of you who have suffered heart-break know what I’m talking about for sure. We’ll continue to see each other in the places where our lives overlap: the JCC, CityShul, some lectures and events. I will try, when I see him, to remember the best of what we were together and focus on how much I have to be grateful for. I wish him only good things – the things he truly wants – in the years ahead.
Three weeks later: I started writing this post three weeks ago and had to take a long pause while I got my feet back on the ground under me. As Winston Churchill said: “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” Or, as Joseph Campbell put it: “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.” And so I am spending my time these days become my own best friend again, and what a great and deep learning opportunity that is. I am reviewing everything I do through the lens of whether or not it’s something truly meaningful to me and whether or not those actions can make the world a better place. Because, as the Dalai Lama so wise said: “With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.” And that, my friend, is what I think about the meaning of life. It’s not about how many toys you can gather, how much wealth, how much influence. It’s about what you can offer to bring a smile to someone’s face. It’s about the ways in which we seek to make our efforts bountiful to others as well as ourselves. Some of you might remember Mr. Rogers who espoused that we all live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy – he pointed out – to say “it’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then – he said – there are those who can see the need and respond. Those people were his heroes, and they are mine as well.
Moving forward: And so another year – 5777 in the Jewish calendar – begins. The old year(s) are left behind. I will remember the lessons learned and try to find ways to apply that awareness to how I live my life in the year to come. This is my Rosh Hashanah; my new year. A time to begin anew. A time to put energy into creating myself … again. Truth is, just as I don’t think that creation is a 7-day story with rest on the 7th day (and those of you with an interest in the Bible should note that it doesn’t say that G-d quit on the 7th day, just that she rested. In a week I’ll be leaving for 19 days in China, a trip that’s not happening as planned but that will give me lots of time to be with myself while I enjoy visiting new places and some places I’ve already been and am very fond of. A week after my return from China – on November 10th – I am back in the OR for the 7th surgery on my arm; this time they’re removing all of the “hardware” I’ve been carrying around for 21 months. There’s so much metal! Before we were rear-ended in a car accident I had finally reached the point where recovery seemed possible, and then with that one crashing moment my arm was rebroken and more surgeries – and more metal – and more pain – ensued. Here’s hoping this next surgery will be the last! I am very pleased that my sister Fran is flying in from California to “take care” of me, and I know that with her, my son Motti, and my friends “on board”, as well as those who will support me with their emails and phone calls – I will find the support that I need to recover once again.
Complex gratitude: I am looking forward to fostering a “working dog in training” starting in late November; Olga – the terrific graduate student who lives with me – is going to “co-parent” the puppy. I will still be teaching Great Trials That Changed The Course of History in San Miguel de Allende in February. If you’re going to be in that part of Mexico in February, drop me an email and we can meet. Not sure what my post-February plans are yet but they might include an additional couple of weeks away from winter. I will continue to work hard to strengthen my body again as part of my recovery from surgery process. I will continue to deliver Kosher Meals on Wheels weekly, and I’ll volunteer again with the Out Of The Cold program. I will tend my garden when winter has ended, and enjoy sunny days in my beautiful backyard. I’ll participate in the Opera For All program again. I will spend time with friends, and time with myself. Summer will turn into fall and I’ll be teaching the course at the University of Toronto. I’m grateful for the inner strength that enables me to move forward, and to the communities in which I am a part (The Narayever, CityShul among them) and which give me great joy. I will learn. I will grow.
I’ll end with something that I recently stumbled upon that says it beautifully. To all of you, my best wishes for a healthy, joyous and meaningful new year.
Dare to Be
When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully.
When there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light.
When there is injustice, dare to be the first to condemn it.
When something seems difficult, dare to do it anyway.
When life seems to beat you down, dare to fight back.
When there seems to be no hope, dare to find some.
When you’re feeling tired, dare to keep going.
When times are tough, dare to be tougher.
When love hurts you, dare to love again.
When someone is hurting, dare to help them heal.
When another is lost, dare to help them find the way.
When a friend falls, dare to be the first to extend a hand.
When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.
When you feel great, dare to help someone else feel great too.
When the day has ended, dare to feel as you’ve done your best.
Dare to be the best you can –
At all times, Dare to be!”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free