For many people life slows down during the summer. Those who take some time off and enjoy a bit of vacation can appreciate not only a change of pace but also opportunities to do things they don’t have time for during the busier times of the year.
Part of life’s reality is that busy people often don’t have time to stop and many think of stopping as “down time”. Not only does the existence of Shabbat contradict the attitude that stopping is poor usage of time, it mandates stopping as important for health, both physical and spiritual. In fact, the blessings found at the start of the morning prayer process, both for Shabbat and for everyday function, emphasize that it is important that people find time to stop long enough to notice and express gratitude for all that is good in life.
In the course of a hectic day, we hope and assume that enough will go as we would like that we can successfully navigate that day and keep ahead of all the tasks we set out to accomplish and the obligations we are supposed to fill.
Accordingly, in the rush of the day, it is more likely we will notice disappointments and problems that intrude on our hoped for successes and accomplishments. All too often, the only time we find to notice our health is when we are derailed by illness and while languishing in bed, wondering why we weren’t more grateful for how wonderful it is to be well and healthy while we
are indeed feeling okay.
For those that have chosen the Siddur’s (prayer book’s) way of viewing life and do set aside time for such reflection in the morning, and some in the afternoon and evening as well, with the start of the day, the first blessings recited (Birchot HaShachar) focus on what is going well; they remind us that in stopping we can call to mind that there is so much to be thankful for today and
in the course of every day.
Why is it that repeatedly we hear of people only tapping into such positive energy after escaping some kind of terrible danger or life-threatening illness? The answer I suppose is that it is human nature that we take blessings for granted: people in our lives, our health, our life circumstances and so much more. All too often, we hear of people that have survived an overwhelmingly traumatic life experience changing their values and priorities and determining to live each moment as a blessing; they become conscious of seeing the good in people on an ongoing basis and accepting the reality that we actually have no idea what tomorrow will bring or how long any of us will live with conditions we have assumed will remain stable for the foreseeable future
As I write these words, one of the folks in a group I lead in Marin, a wonderful person who asks lots of meaningful questions about the place of God in our lives and in so asking challenging rabbis and other spiritual leaders to help more substantively in addressing questions of God’s presence and purpose for us in life…this person has just been stricken with a stroke that has
severely limited his ability to function and to speak. A dynamic force in the group, one who has kept us focused on what matters more in life than we typically reflect on, left to our own choices of conversation, has been struck down. This man has done his share of teaching us to not take situations for granted and to know that each moment is filled with choice and blessing. Even in my shock at confronting this sudden change in his life circumstances, I am left to ask: what can any one of us do to increase our
efforts to notice blessings before they are taken away from us? What can we do to change the formula so that we will learn to act as if we have indeed survived a traumatic life threatening situation with all the “benefits” of no longer taking dear ones and friends and positive situations for granted, and to do so without actually suffering such trauma?
Some of you may have seen Lawrence O’Donnell’s return to his TV show, The Last Word, after surviving a horrifying crash in a Taxi that could have killed him a few months ago. I urge you to Google his story and find a YouTube or other format to hear his comments upon returning to his nightly news show. You will hear a life changing perspective you never hear from a television
anchor. He is another example of someone whose life will no longer be the same after having successfully recovered from that accident.
Summertime, when the living is easier, is a good time to exercise this sense of our being, to practice noticing blessings.
Do you have a story of an incident that changed your life or that of someone you know in the direction of taking to heart life’s daily blessings, otherwise overlooked? What can we do to access such wisdom without the trauma?
I wish you a restful summer with lots for which to be grateful, even as I am grateful beyond words to share life’s journey with you and so many wonderful folks associated with B’nai Israel.