Today is my 65th birthday. It would also have been the 100th birthday of my father, who passed away on September 18, 2018, Erev Yom Kippur, just four months prior to his centennial year.
Today I celebrate many things amidst the sadness of losing my dad whose death, although deeply felt, was not a tragedy. It was the ultimate outcome of a life well lived by a man well loved.
Today, I celebrate a growing awareness: the knowledge of the imperative to cherish what we have rather than to fall into the pit of focusing on than what we have lost. Because, in our lives, if we are fortunate enough to have love, we will inevitably have loss. It is part of the human equation, a necessary part of the human condition.
Looking at life, being aware of how precious and precarious it is, makes me more fully understand what my dad used to say when I was a little girl. “If I could only stop the clock right now,” he would muse, leaving the rest of the sentence unfinished.
Stopping the clock – an image which suggests an appreciation for those rare moments in time when everything is going well, is not possible. But what is possible is to be mindful of and grateful for the time we are given, and to use the precious hours and days we have to create a life of meaningful choices and relationships.
When we are young, we feel that we have “all the time in the world.” This sense of unlimited time is a reflection of our youth, good health, optimism and energy, often based on the idea that we have limitless possibilities – unencumbered by liabilities or health-related limitations.
As we age and our family and work increase, time takes on new meaning. Like Jesse James, we become consummate thieves – stealing a few minutes or hours from one activity to create time for another. Juggling our calendar, multitasking through our day and feeling the pressure of never having enough time becomes the norm by which we navigate the demands of raising families, working, and making time for the people and things we love.
In our “golden” years, when energy and health often elude us, we take stock of time in a totally different way. We slow down, mentally and physically, and look at what is most meaningful and essential, knowing that we have a limited amount of time left to enjoy and experience what we value most. The equation becomes an imperative to choose wisely and well.
Jewish tradition has much to teach us about the concept of time because it acknowledges a dual perspective: historical time and cyclical time.
Historical time is chronological time and affords us an opportunity to evaluate and take stock of our life as we move through it, giving us a chance to determine how we want to live and what we want to change. It provides a sense of optimism because it reminds us that we are always capable of change. The Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgies are replete with prayers and expressions that confirm this way of viewing time.
Cyclical time, as expressed through our Jewish calendar and lifecycle events, helps us appreciate the recurring patterns of the seasons and the year, of natural life cycle events that are inevitable. Birth, coming of age, marriage, children, grandchildren, loss and death frame our references for the stages of life that we encounter with the passing of time.
How we measure and use the time we have in our lives is up to us. It is the combination of these two types of time – historical and cyclical – that govern our personal, communal, national and even international lives, choices and commitments. And ultimately, time is dictated, not by the hands of a clock, but by our own hearts, minds and consciousness. Or, as expressed so well in the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose.