KOL NIDREI EVENING – 5775
OCTOBER 3, 2014
I received an e-mail from a friend last year that said, in part, “What follows is worthwhile… It was written by Regina Brett, 90 years old, of Cleveland, Ohio. She wrote, ‘To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most requested column I’ve ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more.’”
I was curious, so I did a little bit of research. I learned that Regina Brett is a columnist for the “[Cleveland] Plain Dealer” newspaper and the “Cleveland Jewish News.” No, she is not Jewish (I know you’re wondering – as was I!), but she is married to a Jewish man. And no, she is not 90 years old. Her home page on her website says:
“You don’t look 90.”
People constantly tell me that. Why? Someone keeps sending out an email announcing that I’m 90…
The Internet aged me. The day before I turned 45, I wrote a column of the 45 Lessons Life Taught Me. I added five more lessons when I turned 50. My Life Lessons ended up e-mailed around the world. Only someone changed my age on an email to read: “Written by Regina Brett, 90 years old.” Then someone attached a picture of [a] lovely old lady to the email. No, that dear senior citizen isn’t me.
For the record: I’m only in my 50’s…
...I hope to see 90. After having breast cancer at 41, I’m thrilled to grow old.
…The lessons reflect what I learned from life as a single parent for 18 years, struggling to find the right partner in life, battling breast cancer and healing the bruises from a bumpy childhood. And they reflect what I’ve learned from readers [in] my 27 years as a journalist.
Here are some of the lessons I particularly liked:
“2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. [God] can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile. [I can vouch for that!]
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
13. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
42. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.”
Now some of these may seem trite or even silly to you, but I think they teach some good lessons – or are good reminders -- about how to live our lives. As I noted in my Rosh HaShanah evening sermon, in Parashat Nitzavim, which we read two weeks ago on Shabbat morning, September 20th, and portions of which we will read in tomorrow morning’s Reform Service, it states:
You stand this day, all of you, before your Eternal God – the heads of your tribes, your elders and officers, every one in Israel, men, women, and children, and the strangers in your camp…to enter into the sworn covenant which your Eternal God makes with you this day…And it is not with you alone that I make this sworn covenant: I make it with those who are standing here with us today before our God, and equally with all who are not here with us today.
See, I have set before you this day life and good, or death and evil…I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that I have set before you life or death, blessing or curse; choose life, therefore, that you and your descendants may live… [Excerpts from Deuteronomy 29:9-14, 30:11-20, translation from Gates of Repentance, 1996 edition]
We are given the choice to choose “life and good, or death and evil,” but we are urged, we are told to “choose life…that you and your descendants may live.”
So when Regina Brett also tells us that
“1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
27. Always choose life.
35. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
41. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
50. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift,” she’s reminding us, in a different way, in a different forum, what we learn in our Torah: “Choose life, choose the blessing.” And it’s not enough to simply choose life, but to live life, too, to choose to do the blessing, to choose to be the blessing.
In several places in our Torah God tells us of our choice between blessing and curse, good and evil. God gives us the choice to choose between the two, giving us the ability to select for ourselves, even though God urges us to choose the good and helps us to follow that path. God does not require perfection from us, but rather that we try our best, that we strive to do good and to keep away from evil. If we try to achieve goodness, then God will not leave us alone; God will be there for us during our life’s journey.
Of course, there are some situations over which we have no control. We do, however, have the choice as to how we see these situations and how we respond to them. We may never understand why some people die at a very young age or why we lost a job or why important relationships fail. But we do have control over how we respond to these situations. The Torah reminds us of this in telling us to choose the blessing, the positive, and the good.
I conclude with the wisdom of one of our high school students, who posted the following on Facebook this past week:
One thing I noticed about life is that it’s very routine. We have everything set out in front of us, knowing what paths we need to take. I’ve come to realize exactly how boring a routine life is, [w]ith our lives scheduled and timed perfectly.
However, I want my life to be spontaneous and daring. Taking chances and doing random things at unplanned times… I want to live a life worth living.
Words of wisdom, indeed!
May God give us the strength to make the right choices, to choose to be the blessing, to choose to live a life worth living.
Kein y’hi ratzon – May this be God’s will.