|Here at Temple Beth Avodah, the weeks just before HHDs is like Houston Space Center before a launch. People are darting back and forth, checking lists and revising them: the chairs, the parking, the lights, the HVAC, the flowers, the honors, the security… and on and on. We know that no one’s life hangs in the balance over the question of which salads to serve after services on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Nonetheless, it all feels very important and quite serious. We try to leave nothing to chance and nothing to the last minute. How everyone is feeling: from the moment they drive into the parking lot, to the moment they’re leaving, matters. Period.
Of course in the midst of all of that I have my own agenda as well. Sermons. A new machzor, which means new cues and new pages. New music. And then there’s what always happens: Shabbat, newsletters, blogposts, and more. I’m not complaining! After all, we’re launching a rocket here! It’s just… a lot.
This means that to get things done, I have to carefully clear out some space on my calendar, a job my assistant Claudia does admirably well. But on Thursdays, my day off, it’s up to me to manage my time and tasks. And with just days before Rosh Hashanah, it’s all about service prep and writing, editing, writing, mandatory exercising, sending holiday greetings, and so forth.
Yesterday, which, just to remind you, was a Thursday, I had the day all planned out. I was set. But I glanced out on the back porch on Wednesday night, and there was a large box from Whiteflower Farms, filled with perennials I had ordered in June. Written clearly on the box were words that always make me nervous: “Perishable.” I could let them sit in the box until, well, until when? After Rosh Hashanah? Somehow the idea of letting a box of beautiful monardas and phlox and geraniums dry up and die before the new year seemed to me to be a rotten message that did not bode well for my future.
When I was a young man, I heard the phrase “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” in the lyrics of John Lennon’s heartbreaking sweet lullaby Beautiful Boy to his then 3-year-old son, Sean. I didn’t understand what it meant then.
I do now.
Out on the ocean sailing away
I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we’ll both just have to be patient
‘Cause it’s a long way to go
Lennon’s lyrics are so painfully poignant from this vantage point. We know that he didn’t get to see what he’d planned to see.
The house across the street from us was purchased and refurbished in 1915 as a wedding gift to a young couple sailing to England for their honeymoon. The ship upon which the newlyweds sailed? The Lusitania. And in a terrible twist of irony, it is in that same home where Danny Lewin, founder of Akamai, was living when he was stabbed to death aboard American Flight 11, on September 11, 2001, in an attempt to foil the hijacking.
A box of flowers won’t wait to be planted. A crying baby won’t wait to be fed. A sick friend can’t get in the car without you.
These are some pretty intense examples of life happening in the midst of other plans. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not pre-ordained. It’s what happens on the way to making other plans.
So be loving and kind. If your day is derailed by life, all you can do is play it as it lays. When called upon to detour from the main road to come to the rescue of another, whether fauna or flora, give a special prayer of thanksgiving that you can make a difference in real time.