This evening I came upon this quotation attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov:
“If you are not going to be any better tomorrow than you were today, then what need have you for tomorrow?”
That is a serious provocation to self-examination and personal responsibility.
What have I done to deserve tomorrow?
Tomorrow is a gift I cannot merit, but what would it look like to try to become more worthy of it?
What difference would it make, every night, to create new day’s resolutions?
This evening I read a chapter from Gilbert Meilaender’s book, Bioethics and the Character of Human Life: Essays and Reflections.
Here is one paragraph that particularly captured my attention:
Thus, although compassion surely moves us to try to relieve suffering, there are things we ought not to do even for that worthy end–actions that would not honour or respect our shared human condition. One of the terrible truths that governs the shape of our lives is that somethings there is suffering we are unable–within the limits of morality–entirely to relieve. Hence, the maxim that must govern and shape our compassion should be “maximize care,” which may not always be quite the same as “minimize suffering.”
When I was in high school, a family friend of ours died quite suddenly and unexpectedly in her mid-50s. She was the mother of a close friend of mine and our moms had been good friends throughout our whole lives.
This woman was very devoted to her family and to her work. She seemed to do everything in order. And yet, she was also someone who seemed to always be waiting for retirement to do several of the things she longed to do most.
She would often say, “When I retire…” and express her hopes and dreams for what she would do with greater leisure, time, and money.
It was striking, then, when she died relatively young because one of the things that hit me most as a high schooler was that she was never going to do these things she had put off.
This evening I finished reading Jordan Peterson’s latest book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.
In the last chapter, Rule XII: Be grateful in spite of your suffering, Peterson mentions that he has repeatedly suggested to his various audiences “that strength at the funeral of someone dear and close is a worthy goal” and he notes that “people have indicated to me that they took heart in desperate times as a consequence.”
After a worldwide book tour and many other public appearances, Peterson has had the opportunity to test and play with his ideas with many audiences. And it is interesting to read his thoughtful reflections based on his careful observation of the reactions of persons in the audience.
Earlier in the book, he mentions, as he has said elsewhere, that he sees people’s faces light up whenever he speaks about responsibility. Peterson is keenly aware that people have been raised with a greater emphasis on rights and the corresponding sense of entitlement that ensues with this focus. Yet, a sense of responsibility is what ennobles and fills persons with a sense of their proper dignity and capacity.
Accordingly, this challenge to have strength at funerals is an extension of his usual exhortation to responsibility.
The first time I made a bucket list–which I always insisted on simply calling a life list–I was about 12-years-old.
I almost certainly got the idea to write down my life goals from Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Dr. Laura Schlessinger– all of whom I paid attention to at that age.
And so I wrote up a mission statement for my life (which I still have memorized) and wrote down a long list of all the goals I could possibly dream of.
Over the years I kept adding to it until the list became about 190 items long with the note: “To be always continued… As long as I have breath, I will live with passion and purpose.”
The items were listed in no particular order, although the fact that “Eat Greek Salad in Greece” was number one indicates how highly enthusiastic I was about that one.
Some goals were quite serious (e.g., 3. Make and honour a lifelong commitment , 23. Never be “too busy” for people, 55. Speak in front of 1,000 people or more about something important, etc.).
Some goals were quite civic and reflected my early passion for politics and history (e.g,. 28. Vote in every election in which I am eligible, 49. Visit New York and the United Nations Headquarters building, 31. Put a poppy on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument on Remembrance Day in Ottawa, 101. Visit Fort McMurray, etc.).
Today there is a very interesting piece published in The New York Times titled, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”
This article describes the paradoxical combination of restlessness and lethargy that many people are now experiencing as “languishing.”
It turns out the etymology of the word is “to fail in strength, exhibit signs of approaching death” and the word is derived from the Latin word languere meaning to be listless, sluggish, and lacking in vigour.
The whole New York Times piece is very much worth reading because the author is not only articulate in describing the phenomenon but is also edifying in proposing some possible antidotes.
Adam Grant writes:
I was struck today by something I read on the Anne Frank House website:
On this Q&A-style page, there is question: “What does writing mean to Anne?”
The answer that follows is this:
Writing meant a great deal to Anne. It was her way to vent.
The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I’d absolutely suffocate. – Anne Frank, 16 March 1944
She hoped one day to become a famous writer or journalist. Although she doubted from time to time whether she was talented enough, Anne wanted to write anyway.
That last sentence is so key! She hoped to become a famous writer and, in fact, she did but not in a way she could have ever expected. Anne Frank perished in the Holocaust at age 15, and her diary went on to be published after her death. Since then, more than 30 million copies of the diary have sold in more than 70 languages.
This evening I heard a physician, who is also a Roman Catholic deacon, share a story about a dying woman to whom he would bring Communion.
The 50-year-old woman had uterine cancer that had metastasized into her spine and, understanding the gravity of her condition, he found himself surprised that she was still alive each time he went to visit her.
Eventually, he decided to ask her, “Do you have something you need to do?”
This question invited an response and she answered, “Yes, I do. I need to become a Canadian citizen.”
It turns out that this woman was very close to finalizing her citizenship and needed to do so in order for her children to receive their citizenship and avoid deportation back to Hong Kong.
On hearing this, the physician-deacon phoned a citizenship judge friend of his and explained the situation. When the citizenship judge heard the request, he agreed to meet the woman the next day so that she could swear the oath.
“I’ve never tried cocaine or heroin but I believe the people that tell me it’s a very pleasing, pleasurable feeling,” began Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski in this talk.
He goes on to discuss how Carnation has long sold evaporated milk with the slogan, “Milk from contented cows.” The rabbi continues, “If contentment is the excellence of a cow and all I look for in life is contentment, then I share a goal in life with a cow, and I’m not ready to lower myself to that stage.”
Rabbi Twerski thought there’s nothing wrong with being content but that making contentment a goal of life is an animal trait, not the human vocation.
Yesterday I attended a webinar themed, “New Year’s Resolutions, Jewish Style” led by David and Chana Mason.
In Judaism, there is the custom of wishing another person, “May you live until 120.” The number signifies the fullness of a life well lived – derived from the Biblical account that “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigour unabated.” (Deut. 34:7)