Much has been written and discussed in recent years about our own confrontation with death. Endless books and articles have been written about how one can relate to the death of a loved one. Every religious tradition has guidelines for the final passage and medical technology has made the conversation about end of life wishes a must.
Often, however, these conversations are technical. Not enough conversation is had about what the reality of that death means. Boomers often deny the fact that we will die. It is frightening, no doubt; and besides, there are so many other more “pleasant” issues to contemplate.
In a recently published book, Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death, Erica Brown, scholar in residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, D.C. opens us to the discussion of meaning in light of death.
She speaks about the acceptance of our own passing as a means of liberating our souls to be free to seek our own sense of purpose. I teach this lesson from an understanding of Genesis 3, the chapter on Torah that introduces us to the reality of death. It is a powerful chapter that introduces us as well to the fact that we seek to answer the “where are you?” question of God throughout our life. Brown cites a reality that came to her after a death of person with whom she had worked: “Life will be meaningful only if death stands before us as a stop sign, forcing us to confront life’s most difficult conversations, enabling us to dig deeper into the well of wisdom and empowering us to search for transcendence in the everyday business of living.” (p.121).
Think about that for a moment. In order for us to acquire meaning in life, we need to accept the reality of our own death. I think this is especially valuable for Boomers who, as we age, become more acquainted with the reality that we will, at some point, pass. It is a catalyst, that realization, that we need to adjust our own life and perhaps our priorities. That is why so many of us re-order our life tasks and set for ourselves new goals and objectives. We know that, to keep our sense of life, we need to keep in front of us some reason “to get up in the morning”. Brown channels Viktor Frankl in this when she writes that “the people who stand the greatest chance of survival are those who have goals to achieve, projects to finish, people to see.” (178)
I think that this desire to achieve something is part of the reason why so many Boomers wish to “give back” something to the world. It is part of our desire for our life to count for something, to be able to look back and say that we mattered. Brown’s book is a good read and one that would make an interesting book club selection if you are involved with such a group. “Happier Endings” is published by Simon and Schuster, in New York and was published this year, 2013.
Rabbi Richard F Address. D.Min
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.