I attended a funeral last week. Yesterday I attended a wedding. The circle of life constantly wheels around.
A woman from my congregation passed away, the first person I actually knew since I’ve moved to NYC who died. Her death occupied my mind after I learned of it. She wasn’t particularly young, but she didn’t seem quite old. I spoke to her at a congregational function a few weeks ago, just a few words, and didn’t remark that she looked ill or odd. No death touches nobody; this one touched quite a few. A wooden barrier closed the street to traffic. Mourners lined the street and sidewalks outside the synagogue as short eulogies were spoken into a microphone by the rabbi and one of her sons. As is our tradition, we followed the hearse, walking a way with it, accompanying the deceased for her honor. Though not very overcast or cold, a mood-swallowing chill engulfed the participants. No laughter, just a smattering of voices, most were silent or reciting psalms while escorting her as far as we could walk.
This lady, her son recalled, dedicated her life to making people happy. She followed a directive of the former Rav1 of the community, Rabbi Shimon Schwab. When you are walking on the avenue and see a woman, compliment her on her outfit, say something nice and brighten her day was the gist of the message. The son also requested from the crowd that everyone consider honoring his mother’s memory by taking on one mitzvah/positive deed. Smile at someone once a day. Say psalms. Do a kindness for someone.
How wonderful a concept: remembrance through deeds and positive actions. I can choose to create peace and harmony in my corner of the world. I can commemorate a life well-led and carry on her good deeds. Every time I have a good word for someone else, I send a blessing. A smile, a thoughtful gesture, a small courtesy may not take much time or mean much to me… but it could make a whole lot of difference to someone else.
I can choose to be a better person and get over hurts and slights, move on from difficulties, aim my efforts to improve the situation wherever I am.
Yesterday I danced at a wedding! I hugged and laughed and dabbed at my eyes which filled with tears of joy.
I watched the proceedings with my own personal blessings on my lips: wishing the young couple a happy, harmonious life, a long marital bond. I sat amongst friends, relatives, people I’ve seen before and those I’ve never seen and may never see again. I reveled in their happiness, delighted in the pleasure of the parents, friends, and relatives. A new start, a bright new future as this couple forges a permanent bond. How special! What a difference from the experience of last week.
Sure, I can focus on the bittersweet: the ones who are not here, the ones who cannot be here, the ones who are not yet married or engaged, the ones who yearn to be so. But now is for the present. Keeping in the present keeps me grounded, not guessing about the future or lamenting the past. I choose to live in the moment and let my heart soar.
My philosophy is simple: Happiness is my choice, and I can frame my experience through happy eyes… or choose to see the world as impoverished, mundane, gray and something to be muddled through. I am not the progenitor of this philosophy; I only claim the role of spreading the idea. Through simple action and leading a life aware of blessings and gifts, I can make my corner of the world a better place.
Now isn’t that fun?
1. Rav, honorific for a rabbi, usually the head of a community or distinguished by great scholarship.↩