A few years ago, my wife and I spent some time vacationing on Cape Cod. During one of those days, we took a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard where we rented some bikes to pedal along a beautiful trail that ran alongside the bay. As we proceeded, we enjoyed the scenic panorama all along the way. A few times we stopped to rest, take a breather, and take a picture or two. Each time Chani asked me if we could meander around the area and enjoy the views in the serene setting. But I was set on getting to the end of the trail in the village of Eatontown. I was sure the sight at the end of the trail was most breathtaking of all and would be worth the extra exertion to get there.
When we got to Eatontown, we were quite disappointed. It was indeed a peaceful and pleasant town bordering the water. But it was nothing like the idyllic vacant path we had just traversed. There were stores, restaurants, cars, and regular pedestrian traffic, as in any town. I had foolishly forged on to complete the path, but in doing so I had forfeited the enjoyment we could have had if I would have allowed myself to enjoy the moment.
Isn’t that the story of our lives? Aren’t we always thinking that just around the next bend is the key to happiness?
Someone once noted that people often rationalize that at the next stage of life, they will be able to appreciate what they have. A child feels constrained and thinks his adolescent years will grant him maturity and identity. The adolescent pines for early adulthood when he will have free reign over a car, set his own guidelines and live a blissful, self-regulated life. The young adult who is dating and/or trying to make a living is certain that as soon as he/she finds a spouse and a good job life will be set. Then children come along with all the challenges of child-rearing and its tremendous responsibilities. The parents are sure that as soon as the children are married and self-sufficient, they will be able to retire and enjoy their golden years. When those years finally arrive, even if one is blessed with self-sufficient children who have families of their own, he/she cannot help but wonder where life has gone, and what has become of the wonderful memories of years gone by. “Why didn’t I appreciate it then?!”
During challenging times when we experience loss and are shaken out of our daily routines, we seem to reevaluate our priorities in life. We begin to appreciate the things we so often take for granted.
It’s been said that we tragically never stop to smell the roses. Surely, we do not want such tragedies to ever strike us. But if somehow, we can hold onto that appreciation for the moment, we would live more enriched and happier lives.
A number of years ago, our community lost a mentor who taught us this lesson by example. Howard Israel, a’h, was a dear friend, who seemed to have a perpetual smile etched on his face. At his funeral his wife Susan remarked that she remembers only 4 times(!) during 31 years of marriage when she saw Howard become angry. And each time he calmed down relatively quickly, and it was over. Another son noted that he had never seen his father get angry – ever!
Even during his last two years while he was ill and feeble, he never lost his drive and zest for life. No matter how physically drained he was from treatments and surgeries, when asked how he was his answer was always the same – ‘fantastic’! He was never willing to capitulate. Shortly after completing brain surgery the summer before his passing, the day he was discharged from the hospital he walked into shul for Mincha with his omnipresent smile on his face, to the shock of the kehilla.
We miss him not only as a beloved neighbor and friend, but also as one who taught us not only how to count our days, but also how to make our days count by appreciating all the blessings of life, including life itself.
If only we could learn to appreciate life and count our blessings in good times as well!