This is a short post to reflect on how a #mementomori orientation in life can give an exhilarating sense of urgency.
So often we think that we need to wait until we are more educated, prepared, resourceful, well-connected, experienced, etc., etc. before attempting and realizing the projects and activities that we consider worthwhile.
Yet, whatever it is that is worth doing, there is always a way to do that very thing in an incremental way, even to participate in the thing so partially that it seems to barely count.
Step by step, we realize that by doing consistent small steps in the direction of our values, we live those values with immediacy and to the best of our ability and circumstances in each occasion.
So, what does it look like to be participating in advancing your values already?
There is a common custom not to inscribe Torah books with “From the Library of John Doe,” “This Book Belongs to . . .” or similar Hebrew equivalents. Instead, the name itself is written with no preamble. Some have the custom to preface their names with “LaHashem haaretz umeloah,” “The earth and all that fills it belong to G‑d,” or the acronym lamed, hay, vav.
The custom is attributed to Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid (“the pious”) 1150-1217, who writes in his ethical will that people should “not write in a holy book that it is theirs. Rather, they should write their name without writing it is theirs.”
Some explain that this custom is a fitting reminder that nothing truly belongs to us; it is only entrusted to us. Accordingly, one should follow this practice not just with regard to Torah books, but with all personal belongings.
What a remarkable attitude of detachment in recognition of God’s sovereignty and generosity.
Imagine extending the approach more broadly: The earth and all that fills it belong to God. This MacBook, this iPhone, this winter jacket, this meal, etc. belong to God. And I am ready to hand it over to whoever is in need of it when my stewardship of it should cease.
Today I was having a conversation with someone who has visited persons who are elderly and receiving palliative care. I asked him if any of them have expressed temptations to end their lives prematurely.
“Many,” he said.
“Why is that?” I asked.
He told me that it’s because of a sense of no longer being useful. “For so many, their sense of worth is connected to how useful they can be to their loved ones and to others in their life. When these opportunities diminish, so does their estimation of the value of their lives.”