Truth is, it's hard to talk about spiritual matters in any context, and it's harder to write about them. But, the short form is, for me anyway, especially frustrating. Because, when talking about spiritual stuff in a few hundred words it's awfully easy to come across as either completely vapid or kind of crazy and extreme. Either stupid or fanatical (or, if I'm really lucky, both). Without the nuance of voice and interaction, or at least of pages and pages to explain myself, it often feels like everything comes across except for what I'm actually trying to say. And so, rather than put something out there which seems kind of empty and trite, I put it back on the "to do when I have more time" list and move on.
This morning, I came across a post by a blogger by the name of Charlotte Kitely (thanks, SEC, for the FB link). It's just a beautiful piece. I can't encourage you enough to take a quiet moment and ready it. Kitely knew she was dying, imminently, and so she wrote this piece to be published just after she died, which she did on Tuesday. It's heartbreaking in its honesty and sweetness.
As you read this, I will no longer be here. Rich will be trying to put one foot in front of the other, to get by, a day at a time, knowing I will no longer awake next to him. He will see me in the luxury of a dream, but in the harsh morning sun, the bed will be empty. He will get two cups from the cupboard, but realise there is only one coffee to make. Lucy will need someone to reach for her hairband box, but there won't be anyone to plait her hair. Danny will have lost one of his Lego policeman, but no one will know exactly which one it is or where to look. You will look for the latest update on the blog. There won't be one, this is the final chapter.But, she isn't writing from a place of self-pity or depression. She's quite clear and honest about what saddens and angers her, mind you, but her real point is the lesson she's leaving behind. And, it's an unbelievably trite, common message: savor your life. Every moment of it.
But, they are not to be denied of you. So, in my absence, please, please, enjoy life. Take it by both hands, grab it, shake it and believe in every second of it. Adore your children. You have literally no idea how blessed you are to shout at them in the morning to hurry up and clean their teeth.I can't imagine how many posts there must be on Huff Post alone with the same theme. I can't begin to conceive how many similar posts there are on the entire Internet, to say nothing of magazine articles, books, poems, tattoos and movie scenes. It is probably one of the most common themes and lessons in the entire world. I'm pretty sure that, quite literally, every single person reading this, and every single person who might read this, already knows, believes in, and tries to appreciate this message. We hear it so often that we barely pay attention when it crosses our path. It is, in a word, trite.
But, it's no less true for being so.
Most clichés have more than a grain of truth in them — that's how they became clichés in the first place. Most truisms are, not to put too fine a point on it, true. Most things which are trite are, if we stop and pay attention to them, quite profound.
We're coming up on the High Holy Days. And this message of embracing life is one of the core messages of this time. Yom Kippur especially is a reminder of our inevitably onrushing deaths, and the imperative that they bring with them to take our lives seriously, and to start doing so immediately. You may not have tomorrow to repent, and you may not have next year to live your life as you truly want, and as you are truly meant to, so you had better start right now, rather than later.
We know this. We all know this. And yet, we forget it, over and over again. One of my absolute favorite moments in rabbinic writing comes from Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his Messilat Yesharim. It's one of the classics of Mussar, which is a Jewish program of self evaluation and personal/spiritual improvement. And, at the very beginning, he says that every single thing within this book is already known to everyone reading it. There is absolutely nothing new inside. Instead, the book contains truths which we all know, constantly forget, and therefore are in constant need of reminders of them.
The reality is, that might just be true of all of the great truths in life.
Speaking as someone who has always enjoyed complicated ideas, it's becoming more apparent that the really important ideas are pretty damn simple. Trite, even. Appreciate every thing and every moment you're given. Be as kind as possible. Breathe.
We can talk about these things in complicated ways, either to understand them better, or to make ourselves feel better about our own intellectual depth. We can talk about them in order to remind ourselves of their often forgotten but eternal truth. But, the deeper truth is obvious, and known.
5774 was a wonderful year for me, personally. But it was a difficult year for so many whom I know. And for a couple, it was devastatingly tragic. I hope and pray with every fiber of my being that 5775 brings all of them (but, obviously and especially for Phyllis and Mike, and Sabrina and John, and their families) at least a portion of the peace and happiness they so richly deserve.
And, I hope that the rest of us remember to truly and fully appreciate the lives that we have. I hope that we remember to embrace those around us, and tell them that we love them. I hope that all of us learn to remember what we already know. Our deepest truths are found there.