July 23, 2007
Bernard Baskin, the wise Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton writes a great philosophical piece that has nothing to do with editorial cartooning but reflects a bit on the meaning of life. I thought I’d post it.
Life and its lessons
At some point in our lives, usually when we have passed the mid-way mark, we begin to ask ourselves some searching questions: What have I learned? What wisdom have I gained? What have the years taught me?
We know that one day we shall leave our achievements and possessions for others to enjoy and admire, or even to squander and neglect. But our wisdom we shall take with us. For wisdom is not a possession; to be wise is something you are, not something you have. And ultimately, we shall be remembered not for what we have or had, but for what we were.
The years have taught me to accept occasional failure and frustration without bitter rankling and endless self-recrimination. At every significant step forward in my life, family and friends wished me good luck and success. But no one ever called me aside and said: “Look, success and achievement and good luck present no problem. But remember that nobody’s life is an endless series of successes. No batter will hit a home run every time he gets up to bat. Prepare to successfully handle the times you will strike out, so that the next time you will not be dogged by the crippling feeling that you can’t win.”
I wish someone had said something like that to me. But, like all wisdom, I had to learn it myself.
The most gifted, the most talented, the most deserving person occasionally fails. No lawyer wins every case. No doctor always sees a potentially dangerous physical condition in time. No writer unfailingly produces an acclaimed book. No dramatist invariably comes up with a hit.
That was the easiest part of the lesson. The hard part was learning how not to blame myself for the failures, frustrations and mistakes that came my way.
The hard part was sitting myself down and without self-rejection, without nagging, gnawing self- depreciation, try to understand why and where I failed. And when there was no remedy for it, to develop the inner strength to accept reality.
Oriental rugs found in many homes are woven by hand. Usually, there will be a group of people weaving a single rug together under the directions of an artist who issues instructions to the rest. He determines the choice of colours and the nature of the pattern.
Here is a wise procedure that we can follow in life. We should like the pattern of our lives to be woven exclusively of bright-coloured threads. But every now and then, a dark thread steals into the fabric. If we are true artists of life, we can weave even this thread into the pattern and make it contribute its share to the beauty of the whole.
There is another lesson I have learned in the hard school of experience. Again and again, along the road, something or someone precious has slipped away from me. I thought in my naivete that things would always be the same – that I would go on indefinitely cherishing them, appreciating them just the way they were. But one by one, as the years go on, they slip away.
First, there was youth with its endless energy. Who can hold on to that? Then there were the children when they were young and you were young and the fun you had together with their brightness and eagerness. But children grow up and strike out on their own, get married and start their own families. The focus of their lives shifts. Again you realize that you can’t, and indeed shouldn’t, try to hold on.
Then there are people you cherish and who cherish you because there is a special kind of bond between you. And then one — and then another — passes away, and you feel diminished.
Thus, as the years go by, the realization dawns and strikes deep that there is little in life that you can really have and hold and say “This is mine forever and ever.” Simply, you must learn to hold life and its fullness “with open arms,” ready to let go when the time comes.
Is that a verdict of infinite sadness? Not at all. It is rather an imperative, a daily reminder to cherish, to value, to maximize every hour, every day.
Dr. William Moulton Marston, a psychologist, asked 3,000 people this question: “What do you have to live for?” He was shocked to find that 94 per cent of his respondents were simply enduring the present while they waited for the future.
They were waiting for “something” to happen – waiting for children to grow up and become independent; waiting to pay off the mortgage; waiting for the day when they could take a long-deferred trip; waiting for the leisure that retirement would bring. While they were waiting, life was passing them by, unenjoyed and unappreciated.
Wisdom urges us to stop waiting and begin right now to enlarge our minds, to enrich our spirits and to expand our souls.
On God’s clock for human beings there is no yesterday or tomorrow — only the great now.