Reflections on Memory and Reality

This is a little bit of personal reflection. I am just back from attending the convention of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem. We did some sessions on longevity and the impact of aging on congregations around the world. Israel was, well, Israel. Intense and very much alive. On the way home, I stopped for a few days in London. Many years ago (1969-70) I took a year off of HUC studies and took a congregation in London. It was a fantastic year and I learned more about being a rabbi that year than in all the years of classwork. The friends I made there I am still in touch with and, with every trip back there, connected with them. This trip to see them was bittersweet. Memory is funny, because we sometimes have images fixed in our minds of people and places of a certain time. Yet, when we return, reality sets in.
On Monday last, the children of my closest friend took me to a cemetery in the outer fringes of London so I could visit the grave of Lynn. She and her husband at the time, Stan, adopted me and became close friends. The children who I used to play with as little ones, now were my chaperones to the grave. Lynn died a year and a half ago of cancer and logistics prevented me from going to the funeral. So, we all stood at her grave on a beautiful 80 degree sunny day. I placed some small stones from the Temple mount on the grave and we said Kaddish. So many memories! And once again, the reality of time passing. Where has it gone? So fast, so fleeting. Had it really been 48 years since we had met?
The next day, I took the Tube to visit Stan. Lynn and Stan had been divorced for many years. Stan is house bound and dealing with a myriad of health related issues. I found his house in east London and we sat for a while just talking over tea. Again, so many memories. As I waited for the cab to take me back to the Tube station, he embraced me and said he did not know if he would ever see me again. We hugged. The cab came and it was time to go.
Time passing. Memories of what once was, but can never be again. Bittersweet!. A message? Who knows? Maybe it is the reality that once again the reality of our own mortality is always present–especially as we get older and treasured relationships change. Likewise, it is a reminder that it is these relationships that are really the currency of our life. They are to be valued and treasured for they are fragile and, try as we might, we cannot control them. Another message? Maybe one we all are slowly understanding. Time is this gift that is wrapped in our life. We cannot let it slip un-lived. Every day is that new gift. We need to celebrate it and take the memories of those we care for and make sure those memories find a secure and permanent place with out own soul.
Rabbi Richard F Address


  1. I understand what you are saying only too well.

    Since moving to Florida both my husband and I have become quite aware of our mortality, much more so than we were living on Long Island. We moved here 3 years ago not because we wanted a warm climate, which is the reason most people move to Florida, but because my son and his wife were having issues in their home and needed our help. One of their 3 children is autistic and it’s a difficult situation. I’ve grown very attached to these grandchildren and we do love being with them.

    However, here in Florida we see more elderly people walking the streets with walkers or being pushed in a wheelchair by an attendant, sometimes with a spouse walking next to them. We bought a house in a young neighborhood so it is not so much immediate neighbors, but rather the people we meet on Friday evenings at Temple or in Pubics, Walgreen’s, etc. It’s a constant reminder that we are almost there. We have become involved in groups that interest us and we are building a new life, but our mortality is all around us. I love the climate and some of the new friends we’ve made, but still yearn to go back to my former life in Long Island when my own mortality did not wake me up every morning and put me to sleep every night. At the same time, seeing 90-year-old men and women driving cars, riding bikes, etc., makes me realize that we can’t predict the future, we can only take care of ourselves as best we can, keep, smiling and follow the path that seems right to us that perhaps God or fate has laid out for us..

  2. Do you ever find your memories of very good times distressing if you are not declining yourself in serious ways?

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