|Every so often I’ll read an article about some amazing experiences that people may be able to have – in the future. It’s mostly Jetsons stuff. Space travel. Brain implants that extend strength and endurance and intelligence. Jet Packs. The Hyperloop.
When you get to a certain age, you begin to translate ‘in the future,’ for ‘after I’m gone.’ That fact, in and of itself, is not so depressing. If I’ve learned anything as a congregational rabbi for 35 years, it’s the truth of mortality, that all things must pass.
Christians considered mortality a grievous punishment and some Jews as well, dealt out by a very angry God who said, “Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” But of course that’s exactly what they do – break the only rule God gives them. Which is how human mortality comes into the world.
I’m kind of glad that in the Adam and Eve story, they did what humans do. They were curious and daring, and not subservient. True they lose the gift of immortality. But in all honesty, would you want to live forever? I wouldn’t want that.
While death and dying are often heartbreaking and tragic, the fact of our mortality spurs us to push harder, to reach higher, and to experience the intensity and sweetness that life has to offer. What would life be like without death? The obvious answer would be: there would be nothing left to call ‘life,’ since life can only exist in conjunction with death… Given that we would be immortal, which might be something different than being either dead or alive, how would we then come to value our ‘lives’? Would we still be able to appreciate the beauty of things? Would we even be capable of experiencing emotions in any sense? After all: how happy or sad would we feel if we would come to experience an event that we had experienced an infinite number of times already? Wouldn’t that downgrade the relative value of each moment of – let’s say – sadness? And wouldn’t immortality change how we would appreciate anything beautiful or moving?
I would’ve loved to live at a time when people will leave this planet and colonize distant worlds. I hope I get to own a driverless car. I would’ve liked to see the cure for cancer. I’d always hoped to see Israel arrive at a just peace with the Palestinian people. I fear these are all things not on the near horizon of my life. Even if I get to live to age 100, I don’t think I will see these things.
The Jewish response to this lament is not to get all sad and morose. Rather, it’s to say, “My progeny will see these things, and that has to be good enough for me.” And it is – most of the time. Sure, I occasionally feel some envy over what hasn’t yet arrived. But that’s beside the point. Life and love and learning and art and music and service and joy are the things that drive me to do what I do, and then to share them with others, to truly get the most out of this life.
A moment of gratitude then, for my life. And a moment of gratitude for your life, too. I get to share my life with yours: in print, in a blog, or up close and personal. To study together, laugh and cry together, travel together, to embrace, shake a hand, acknowledge we share the most precious gift. Of course, there’s so much I will never know or experience. In the meantime, thank God for this moment in time, a moment to give thanks.