Just yesterday, I observed the yahrzeit of my stepmother, Renae, a woman who married my father when I was eight years old and therefore was largely responsible for raising me. A native of Brooklyn who grew up in the Chabad movement, she did not have an easy life, as growing up she was not given much voice as a woman in an Orthodox movement. In college, she tried to break into sports and TV journalism at a time women were not respected or welcome in it. Not only did it take her a long time to unlearn all of the subtle and not-so-subtle messages about her self-worth, it also took her many years to learn that not only did she have a voice, but what she had to say was important and could make a difference—which included, in her later years, organizing and running a fashion show that under her direction raised millions of dollars for breast cancer research, the disease which ultimately took her life. Part of her message to my older brothers and I was that we could do anything we wanted, we each had the ability inside of us to fight for what we believed in and we could work to make a difference.
This is a difficult lesson to learn at any age. Sometimes, the biggest obstacle we have to overcome in our lives is ourselves. Like Renae, many of us have grown up with people instilling various levels of self-doubt in our minds, whether intentionally or not, whether well-intentioned or not. It may have been a parent who was imposing their views on who we should be onto us, or a teacher who tried to guide us away from something we were passionate about to get us to focus on something we were stronger in, or a friend or co-worker who put us down to build themselves up, or any number of people in between. Or maybe it’s just us, worried we’re not capable, strong, smart, or skilled enough to live up to our own potential or dreams. Continue reading
A few nights ago, at Kol Nidre, I spoke about how we need to strive to use silence as a constructive force, not allowing it to be a destructive force in our lives. As part of my argument, I discussed how as dangerous as silence can be, volume has become equally dangerous, as the barrage of voices and information we receive on a daily basis drown out the voices we may need to hear most.
Every year around Rosh Hashanah, there’s a song I find myself listening to on the way to synagogue. Written by John Rzeznick, it begins:
“You ask me what I want this year
I’ll try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days.”
As I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, while I never grew up reading comic books, I was a big fan of superhero movies and shows. I probably have seen every episode of the Adam West Batman TV show multiple times and rushed as soon as my parents would allow me to see the first Michael Keaton Batman movie. The Lou Ferragno Incredible Hulk was always a favorite and I also had some knowledge of Christopher Reeves’ Superman and even Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman, as well.
As I grew up, I became less interested in superheroes as I had trouble relating to the lack of realism; I had enough real world problems that I struggled relating to the fictitious ones I was watching.
I’d like to begin with the lyrics of a song a few of you might have heard. It goes:
“Come gather ’round, people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’”
If you know the words and are able to sing along with me, I invite you to do so:
“Hello, darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence”
In 2003, Mitch Albom—a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey who is best known for his work as a sportswriter in Detroit, his appearances on ESPN, and his memoir, Tuesdays With Morrie—released his first novel, a book entitled, The Five People You Meet in Heaven which made several bestselling lists. The book follows Eddie, an 83-year-old war veteran who dies trying to save a little girl in an accident. After his death, as you may have guessed from the title, he meets five people in Heaven who not only teach him about the interconnectedness of all things, the importance of sacrifice, the need to forgive, the power of love, and the need for inner peace, but also help him make sense of his life, to see the greater purpose in how he lived—a purpose he struggled to find while he was alive.
Last year, Albom released the sequel to his bestseller. Entitled The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, this book follows the life of Annie, the girl Eddie saved and how her life unfolded following the accident. Like Eddie in the first book, she too struggled with finding meaning in her life, believing everything she did was wrong and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t do anything right. Only after meeting her five people in Heaven does she learn differently. While alive, both Eddie and Annie shared a lack of satisfaction with their lives; Eddie thought he wasted it while Annie struggled to find one thing in her life that was not a mistake.
If you ever need a good, cathartic cry, either of these books will hit the spot.
For years, I would attend this Yizkor service in memory of my mother (and later, my stepmother) out of a sense of obligation. I felt a duty to honor their memory but, to be honest, did not always “enjoy” doing so. Like cutting open a scar, it too often felt like I was re-living the pain that their deaths caused and re-suffered emotions I otherwise tried to move beyond; in fact, many times I walked away from the service feeling like I failed them because I hadn’t properly honored their memory since I hadn’t suffered those emotions enough. Rather than feeling connected to them, I felt even more hurt.
Then, this past summer, Disney released a live action version of its classic, The Lion King.
I’ve spoken before with you about the idea of synchronicity. For those who may not remember, the idea is that there is no such thing as a coincidence. Carl Jung defined it as a series of unrelated events that have no causal relationship but seem to be meaningfully related. In religious circles, it is often used to imply that what seems like an honest accident of fate is actually God’s Plan manifesting in reality. We often like to use the proverb that “God works in mysterious ways.” Synchronicity is one of those ways.