Gently into that Good Night

I have never thought much about the end of life. I once knew a psychotherapist who would not discuss the subject, its power so frightening that she decompensated when anyone brushed against mortality. My philosophy has been – at least up until now – not to worry. It’s going to happen.

Rabbi Jonathan P. Kendall, D.D.
Rabbi Jonathan P. Kendall, D.D.

The current of life streams onward and its currents are inexorable. Better to focus on living until time runs out. I have a treacly sentimentality about the past – events, friends, family, successes, failures, tears and laughter come to visit on a regular basis. I have fond memories, but I refuse to be held captive by them. Rather, I find that centering on the present and looking forward to the future is wiser and healthier. And, yes, I know the old saw: human beings plan and God laughs. But really, so what? Succumbing to the narcissism that inveighs against God for screwing up my best intentions is a terrible waste of time and emotional energy. Better one should play the cards that they are dealt and do so with integrity and dignity – even if it’s a lousy hand.

Accompanying the ever advancing years is the intensifying belief that every life has purposes – not just one, but many. When time runs out, not all of them will be realized, but until the final movement of our hands, we ought to be occupied – preoccupied – with completing them. Fortunately, there is a template from which to draw. The “Holiness Code,” right in the middle of Yayikra, Leviticus, teaches an imperishable Jewish lesson: imitate God’s attributes and wed that behavior to simple, transparently honest everyday gestures and you are putting a smile on God’s face.

You need not build a cathedral. But you do have to keep honest weights and measures, don’t curse the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind. Those actions are within the reach of everyone. These are not Promethean deeds; they do not require unlimited resources or an OCD commitment to the enterprise.  They demand, instead, a mind-set, a world view, a weltanschauung, a world-view that is tethered to authentic and genuine Jewish values. Because time is shorter than it used to be, this sacred inclination begs for your involvement so that your life might be enlarged, your days enriched and the legacy you bequeath to your loved ones and your community insured.

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