Finding Purpose and Meaning Before the Diagnosis Comes

The most sacred of days have arrived for the Jewish people.

During this period, known as the Days of Awe, Jews are encouraged to do everything in our power to renew ourselves and our relationships; to remember what counts most. I have experienced a combination of events recently which have made me dig down once again and evaluate how it is that we sew meaning into the fabric of our lives. The first was absolutely thrilling.

A few weeks back, my wife and I took our son, Jake, to see Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band. I have always been enamored of the Beatles and I have been steadfastly committed to indoctrinating my children. It turns out that this Ringo show was quite special. It was his 70th birthday. For some, 70 really is the new 50. He looks extraordinary. He danced around the stage like a teenager. There was magic in the air; nostalgia was surely running up and down the spine of all in attendance. Seeing a healthy and robust 70-year-old Rock and Roll star was enough. After all, we all know that too many of these stars have died young; including two of his own mates. But the evening hit its crescendo when a litany of rock and roll greats joined Ringo to close the show.

There are too many to list in this space, but I will mention Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, who were up singing and dancing with Starr. Then just when the crowd thought the concert had ended, Paul McCartney appeared on stage to sing the Beatles' "Birthday." The crowd, yelled in delight, knowing that they were witnessing the closest thing they or the world would ever come, to seeing a Beatles reunion.

I will admit that I am a bit more emotional than some, but I had tears. I had tears for the history. I had tears for the pure talent. I had tears because of Lennon and Harrison's absence. I had tears because of the memories the music brought to me of my childhood. And most of all, I had tears because the moment transcended time. My son, Jake is 6. Ringo is 70. And one day my son will be able to tell his grandchildren that he saw two of the Beatles play together... with his Dad. I held him tight as I cried and although he did not understand why I held him so close, he knew this was special. He held me tight also and said, "Daddy, this is one of the best nights of my life."

The surreal nature of the moment sent forth waves of meaning. It is only music I thought. There are so many more important parts of life. Yet, I knew that this too was uniquely sacred and I'd better be present in the moment.

Being present in that joyful moment was only reinforced by a phone call which was to come the next day. It came from one of my college classmates who sadly explained that he had just gotten off the phone with his mother who had told him that she had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

My friend recounted that just days earlier his family joyfully shared dinner. That night during dinner, my friend's mother mentioned she had made some odd spelling mistakes in writing an e-mail message to one of her sons. When she consulted her doctor, it was discovered all too quickly that my friend's mother had a brain tumor and was not given more than six months.

Contemplating Life's Fragility

I sat and contemplated life's fragility. It's not that I don't know this happens. Yet, I still ask after 13 years of being a rabbi: How could this happen? If this happened to me, what would I do with my remaining months? In one brief moment, the whole of our lives can change.

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