Sermon – Rosh Hashanah Day 2
September 11, 2018 | 2 Tishrei 5779
Delivered by Rabbi Neil Sandler
Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Anyone here recognize that name?
Amy was an author of childrens and adult books.
She made some short films and was also a radio host.
And she did some incredible, if somewhat quirky, things during her all-too-short lifetime.
Among the more extraordinary things Amy did just ten days before she died last March was to write a New York Times op-ed entitled, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.”
It was called a love letter to her husband, Jason, and it was a love letter.
But born of that love, Amy recognized that her husband deserved another partner with whom he could share life following her death.
That op-ed was a tough read.
Amy’s conclusion, written to Jason and to that eventual partner, was this:
I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins. I’ll leave this intentional empty space below as a way of giving you two the fresh start you deserve.
The op-ed ended with that empty space.
What an incredible and uniquely generous spirit.
Apparently that was Amy’s nature.
Amy often expressed her generous spirit in funny, even quirky ways that begged for attention and some reflection….
…. like the time she left Hostess Ding Dongs on random porches in her neighborhood….
… or the time she and two friends clipped one hundred $1 dollar bills to a few trees and waited to see what would happen….
… or the time she organized a group of people to stand outside an el station (the elevated train) in Chicago … to cheer commuters returning home after a long day of work.
The best known of Amy’s expressions of her generous spirit was a project she called “The Beckoning of Lovely.”
You can go on the web and learn a great deal about it.
But its culmination was this – At the end of the project ten years ago, Amy sent out a YouTube video inviting people to join her at a downtown Chicago park on an August afternoon.
Four hundred people showed up, and Amy threw a party.
Complete strangers danced, blew bubbles and handed out flowers to passers-by.
You can find a video of that day on Amy’s website including its conclusion when people flipped over individual sheets of paper to reveal one word each.
Here are the sheets – Let’s say each word together – “Make the most of your time here.”
“Make the most of your time here.”
I wish I had known Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Back in that New York Times op-ed, Amy did reflect a bit on her life, but if someone had turned to her in her last months and asked,
“Amy, what do you want to say about your life?;”
“How do you reflect on all of it?”
“Did you make the most of your time here?” –
I wonder how she would have responded.
Another person, better known to most of us than Amy Krouse Rosenthal, also died this year, and we don’t have to wonder about how he would have answered those questions.
Charles Krauthammer, the extraordinary Washington Post op-ed writer, answered these questions in the final, brief public sentiments he shared in the newspaper only weeks prior to his death.
I don’t know that anyone actually asked those questions of him.
But I discern clear answers toward the end of his column.
This is what Dr. Krauthammer wrote:
I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny. I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life – full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.
“I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”
If someone had actually asked Charles Krauthammer, who many of you know faced life-changing trauma in his 20’s – What would you say about your life? Did you make the most of your time here?
You can hear what his answer would have been…
A resounding “Yes!”
“I played a small role in conversations that helped guide our nation’s destiny.”
“My life was full and complete with great loves and great endeavors.”
“I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”
Kathleen Parker, a colleague of Charles Krauthammer at The Washington Post, wrote a beautiful tribute to him after reading his final column.
Simple, but heartfelt words – “Anyone reading those words,” Parker wrote, “must be thinking the same; I hope I can say that someday.”
I doubt Ms. Parker meant to convey that each of us would like to be able to say we had helped guide our nation’s destiny.
But who among us would not wish to say, “I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended?”
If you knew your life was coming to an end, what would you want to say about it?
If that seems a little daunting, what would you say about your life today?
Is there a gap… a gap between what you would say today and what you would like to say?
Each of us here this morning, irrespective of age and health, ought to ask ourselves those questions… probably at this time every year.
If you are an older adult or have health concerns, you have obvious reasons to think about how you view the life you have lived and if there is a gap that can still be addressed between – “have done” and “can still do.”
Why should you think about such things and then act?
It’s called “time.”
It’s called “getting it right.”
It’s called “peace of mind.”
It’s called “living contentedly and without fear of death.”
And, as Charles Krauthammer shared with us, it is this: living…“with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”
What if you are younger?
Amy Krouse Rosenthal died at a much younger age than Charles Krauthammer.
Yet I strongly sense she could have said the same thing Dr. Krauthammer said – Amy surely lived the life that she intended!
Those of us who are Baby Boomers are still young enough to feel we have a number of good years ahead of us.
And if you are younger, all the more so!
Some of you may not even be “finished products” yet.
You’re still figuring out some things about yourself and your life.
If so, asking yourself the questions Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Charles Krauthammer effectively answered could become transformative!
A person who believes he or she has twenty, thirty, forty or more good and productive years ahead of him/her can answer the questions these two incredible individuals addressed, determine if there is a gap between “have done” and “can still do” and begin to narrow that gap now.
These High Holidays ought to be a time of self – confrontation no matter how old we are.
“Confrontation” is a word we don’t like to use, but it may be appropriate.
Most of us slide through our lives with very little attention to what we ought to do in order to live the lives that we intended – how we need to change ourselves or the dynamics of a troubled relationship with someone.
If we do honestly think about teshuva at this time of year and act on it, it usually pertains to someone we have wronged or who has wronged us.
That is good, of course.
It’s that other confrontation – with ourselves – that we tend to ignore.
Who am I?
Have I lived or am I living the life that I intended?
There’s only one person who can answer that question.
“Am I living the life that I intended?”
A day will come when we will no longer be able to ask.
No one – not even an older individual and surely not a young person – knows when.
That is why our tradition – both biblical and rabbinic – tells us that the amount of our time on this earth is not only unknown;
It urges us to use that time for the purpose we intended.
The Psalmist places this sage sentiment before us (Ps. 90:12):
Limnot yamaynu, kayn hoda; V’navee levav chochmah – Teach us to use all of our days that we may attain a heart of wisdom.
In this New Year, I pray that we and our loved ones will be blessed in many ways;
- Blessed with good health and well-being
- Blessed with the Psalmist’s “heart of wisdom”
- And blessed with insight and a forthright spirit so that we might ask ourselves, “Am I truly living the life that I intended?”
May our answers bring blessings.