I often think about the future.
Of course, that is pretty vague. I think about tomorrow, weeks ahead, months ahead…and so on. I also think about the next “Journey.” Some refer to this as the Afterlife…however, what if it is just one continuous life? I have read a lot on this subject – I mean, I am a rabbi. I even teach a class on the Jewish understandings of “Heaven and Hell.”
It makes a lot of sense that we would dwell on our time as a “living biological being” on earth. After all, it is right in front of us. We cannot ignore it. And, we are not really able to comprehend what we do not understand – which of course is everything before and after our time on earth.
When I think about the future, I try to focus on the positive “what ifs.” It is not always easy, though, when I consider so many of the terrible things that are present in today’s world including terrorism, natural disasters, mass shootings and the list goes on. My “inner” Yetzer Tov (my good angel) reminds me of all of the wonderful things – my wife, my beautiful family, my wonderful congregation and so much more.
Times of Wonder
Think back to the first time you smelled a new born baby’s head…what about the first flowers of Spring. Have you found true love? Remember how your heart felt when you saw your beloved after an absence? These are only a few examples of the wonder there is in the world.
When approaching the end of life, people often will tell me they are not afraid to die. They are looking forward…why? Some are looking forward to no longer being in pain while others are excited about the next stage of their lives. Even those who struggle with God or the Heaven/Hell idea are still sometimes excited about finding out what’s next. On the other hand, some are afraid of how their families and friends will cope with their passing.
One of the first words a Jewish person utters in the morning is: Modeh Ani L’fanecha, Melech Chai v’Kayam, She’he’chezarta Bi Nishmati, Bechemla, Rabah Emunatecha. “I offer thanks to You, ever living Sovereign, that You have restored my soul to me in mercy: How great is Your trust.”
Every day that we wake up and open our eyes, we should be thankful for the day that is ahead. Even during our daily struggles, we should look for reasons to be thankful…things to amaze us: the wonders of every day. This is not always easy. For many, this is a rather difficult task. It is, however, a struggle we must work through. We should find these moments of wonder and hold on to the memories.
Looking Back and then looking forward again
When we think of those who have had indelible imprints on our lives, especially those who have died, should we only remember the wonder? What about the pain that we feel? Perhaps we are angry as we do not understand why they are gone. Perhaps there are also uncomfortable or bad memories that are hard to forget. I firmly believe that the “bad” experiences and memories are just as important as the “good” ones.
Do not get me wrong. Sometimes, it is impossible to look past or forget these bad experiences. And, sometimes these experiences overpower the good ones. That is ok. All of the experiences we have in life impact us and help us to become who we are today and in the future. So, look back and find those memories: the good ones and the “not so good ones.”
You have them? Ok, now look forward again. If you do not understand why, that is ok…let these memories help you to move forward. Do not let them overpower you. Do not forget them…hold on to them. Recognize them for what they are. This may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. That is also ok…this is how we move forward.
Let me end this blog with a prayer:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam, Mi M’vareich et Ha’avar shelanu v’et Ha’atid shelanu.
Blessed are You Adonai, Sovereign of the Universe, who blesses our past and our future.
Rabbi Erin Boxt serves Temple Beth El in Knoxville, TN.