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Life Goes On

01/27/2021 02:16:59 PM


Said sometimes with hope and more often with muted acceptance, “life goes on” is a phrase that leaves so much to be desired.  In the midst of COVID, life goes on.  In the face of cancer and treatment, life goes on.  In the wake of biting and striking political winds, life goes on.  In the face of mysterious symptoms but no obvious diagnosis, endless tests, and doctors who employ the reminder that, “it is called the practice of medicine for a reason,” life still goes on.  However, how often are we willing to recognize that if life is to still go on, it must go on differently than we lived it before?

I am not necessarily a subscriber to the “Let go and let God” mantra.   I get why embracing my utter vulnerability is for me anyway, not empowering.  However, I do fully believe that in order to respond to the many obstacles and sometimes upending challenges of life, the only way forward cannot be found along the same paths we have walked before.  There are some who believe that everything happens for a reason, and there are others who will claim that the randomness of our lives is akin to the one in one-hundred-millionth chance of the mutation of a gene.  We will never know.  And no one has delivered to us the blueprints for how to fix it.  No, instead, we are invited to rise to the moment, and imbue it with the meaning we create.

A great Rabbi once taught that human beings would be well served by walking through their lives with two pieces of paper, one in each pocket. On one piece of paper, the words:  “The entire universe was created for my sake alone.”  And on the other piece of paper, “I am but dust and ashes.” The Rabbi recommended that when we are feeling quite down and depressed, alone and listless, we should read the piece of paper that reminds us that we are the reason for existence, but when we are feeling haughty and overproud, we should read the other piece of paper, reminding us of our deep and mortal vulnerability.  Both statements equally true and yet only temporally appropriate.

What I wish to teach is the deep and abiding reminder that if you have lived a life rather blessed and unharmed, Mazal tov, for you indeed have garnered good signs and beneficence. Your seeming invulnerability most likely stems from factors entirely unearned by you and perhaps some indeed as a result of “good living.”  But when misfortune, malady, frightening mystery visits your doorstep, you only have one meaningful act if you wish to move forward.  And that is to shift.  It is to squint and strain, it is to turn things upside down and inside out, it is to look up if you are used to looking down, left instead of right, in instead of out. It is to become ever more curious about the very things you are most sure and to allow this moment to become the watershed that you begin to build.

None of us enters our lives with a promise that all will be well all of the time.  None of us was even “invited” into this world; we showed up by such remote chance.  And it is this, the very randomness of our existence, that makes the love we experience and the love we share with all the other inhabitants of this world so marvelous.  We all come from the same stuff and the sparkles of stardust twinkle from our eyes.  And from those of all others.  The universe came to be for our sake alone, but because that is true for everyone else, humility is the only appropriate response to allow our fixed notions of life to break down in order for others to be built anew.  "Life goes on" is only a meaningful statement if we wish to pave new ways forward.   

Sat, June 19 2021 9 Tammuz 5781