Finding Purpose and Meaning Before the Diagnosis Comes

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.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur asks that we make sure we live our days with meaning and purpose. The blast of the Ram's Horn is meant to wake us up to trajectory change; to be who we are meant to be. When we look at our society, it seems that we often live for the future, rather than in the present. There are financial planners, educational planners and party planners. While it is important to be sure that our families and our businesses have advance plans, I am concerned sometimes that we live so much of our lives in the future, that we are missing the blessings that surround us each and every day.

There is a Hassidic parable which tells us that we all walk around with a small piece of paper in each of our pockets. In one pocket, the piece of paper reads. "You are created in God's image." That is, you are the master of each day. The other pocket's writing says: "You are but dust of the earth."

Life is beyond your control. It is our job to constantly balance these two pockets. We all know that there are laws of nature in this world over which we have no control. We may not consider any of this fair, but at the same time, we also have the power each day to control our individual destinies.

Meaning comes in many different forms. Take life seriously, yes; but that means: experience all parts of your life with awareness and presence. Take in every legitimate pleasure that comes your way. If we spend our entire lives anxiously awaiting the diagnosis, we will simply miss the world as it passes us by. When Ringo was interviewed the day of his birthday, he was asked what wisdom he could share on his 70th.

He said, "I have learned that the more loving I am of others; the more generous I am with others, the healthier and happier I feel in my life. It makes me feel younger." It occurred to me that he gets it. It's simple, but seemingly difficult for so many of us to actualize.

I wish you balance, meaning, wholeness and health in the Jewish season of renewal.

Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz is senior rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, N.J. He is also the author of "The Gift of Grief: Finding Peace, Transformation, and Renewed Life after Great Sorrow. "

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