If we knew this would be our last year on earth, how would we look at the trees? This thought crossed my mind as I walked to synagogue on Shabbat. Against the grayish sky, the colors on the trees were radiant, and I was filled with a sense of wonder. I just had this overwhelming need to absorb the magnificence of nature – the full glory of the moment before all goes dormant. What if this were the last year I ever saw the miracle of autumn?
How would we live our lives differently if we knew our time was coming to an end? Would we observe our world with greater sharpness, a sense of awe, purpose and appreciation? What about our relationships with others? How would we improve them?
Interestingly, I find that eulogies at funerals can give us insight into what really matters in terms of how we choose to live our lives. I have never attended a funeral where the bereaved praised the deceased’s home, car, or other possessions. I have never heard a eulogy that focused on the hours clocked at the office, or away from home. If the person was wealthy, the eulogy may have mentioned the person’s philanthropy and generosity. But eulogies usually focus on a person’s character, and the quality of their relationships with others.
I am sure we will want to be remembered by who we were in relation to others. What difference did we make to them? In the end, these are the memories they will cherish.
As I looked at the trees with awe on my walk to shul, I reminded myself of what I know, with profound faith, to be true: that we are meant to live lives with meaning. We are meant to embrace the existential reality that our lives, though finite, are purposeful, and not random. And while there are so few things that we can control, as the events in the world so starkly remind us, through a Jewish framework of acting as God’s sacred partners, we can choose how we lead our own lives.
World events like the violence in Israel can make us feel powerless and insignificant. However, imagine a world where we lived by an old saying, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the world will be a very clean place.” Individuals would take responsibility for themselves, pursue justice, treat others with kindness and compassion, give time and love to those near to them. Picture a world where each individual respected one another regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or sexuality.
We must not wait for others! If we as Jews begin today, taking steps to create meaningful lives, we may be able to change the world one person at a time.
Judaism, in fact, is the blueprint by which we can live each day as if it were our last. Its emphasis on tzedakah, blessings and acts of loving kindness creates a sense of urgency to act in a meaningful and purposeful way each day, in recognition of the sacredness of life.
Imagine it for yourself. And then do it. Lead a life with a sense of urgency to say the things we mean to say, do the things we mean to do, and spend our time with those who really matter to us. Consider the brilliance of that approach. We would live lives of purpose, meaning and hope, and truly make a difference in our lives and those around us! And while you are at it, take a moment to view the last vestiges of the brilliant colors on the trees to remind yourselves of the miracle of creation and the miracle of life!