My friend Steve stands out in a crowd. Partly because he’s 6’4”, but mostly because he’s gregarious and has an energy that attracts people. For all the years I’ve known him, he’s been a symbol to me of a thriving, healthy person. So it was difficult to read he has cancer. And it was even more difficult to read that it has spread to his lungs.
My initial response to his news was shock. How could this happen to him? He’s vibrant and active, and enjoys the full life he’s earned after retirement.
Then I remembered: life is uncertain.
Steve is clear in his thinking right now. He’s taking steps to ensure his pets have a home to live in, he’s sharing news about his will, and he’s pacing himself so he spares his energy for the things that need his attention. None of this surprises me about him.
Maybe it’s not coincidence that his news came during the Jewish High Holy Days.
According to the Interfaith Family website (www.interfaithfamily.com) the four main activities of the High Holy Days are (1) to perform a moral self-assessment, (2) to seek forgiveness from those we’ve harmed, (3) to make amends as needed, and (4) to resolve to do better in the future. Steve has been to me a living demonstration of the fourth component.
Rosh Hashanah, the first of the ten-day holiday, is the beginning of the new Jewish year. It’s a celebration of what’s to come mixed with a reflection on what has already occurred. The final day of the High Holy Days celebration is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which includes atoning for past mistakes, seeking forgiveness, and starting fresh. Yom Kippur is often celebrated with others as a community experience.
The word “Teshuvah” is used to encompass the activities of the High Holy Days. Because I like to translate things into easy-to-remember ideas, I might call it Reflect, Repair, Resolve, and Reform, the 4 Rs of new beginnings. I can think of no better tradition, regardless of what religious views you may hold, than to take on this challenge each year.
Power to transform
Teshuvah is also a reminder that we have the power to transform ourselves at will. Our lives and affairs are mutable and we hold the power to change the things in our control. I do not suggest transformation is easy. Often it’s quite difficult and time consuming. But I know no one who regrets challenging themselves to become something greater than they once were.
I’ll be spending a few hours each week with Steve. I cherish the times I’ve had with him in the last 12+ years and want to be present with him now. Fortunately, I’ve no reason to atone for any misdeed with Steve, but I certainly can be a better friend to him and to all those I call friends.
I invite you to join me in this tradition. Challenge yourself to be and do better. And while you’re at it, be present with the ones you love. You never know what life has in store for you or them.