The fullness of your story
by Jhos Singer
Julie and I are recently back from two weeks of vacation in the utterly glorious, sparsely populated, traffic free, and fecund Salt Spring Island, BC. Being away from our daily grind—relaxed and virtually stress free—we had time to reflect on our personal and professional triumphs and failures. We thought about what we hope to do with the remaining productive years of our lives. We considered the adventures still to be had, the learning left to tackle, and what remaining messes require mop up. Our existential reflections were complimented by our sightings of back-from-the-brink-of-extinction bald eagles and magnificent osprey, dense forests and tiny wildflowers; buying food on the honor system from farm stands; and slow, creative, meditative afternoons in the kitchen. I coaxed an old barbeque to do my bidding, grilling chicken, veggies, and an entire Galia melon. One afternoon Julie and I found ourselves inspecting a stack of carrots at the farmer’s market right next to every Lesbian fan girl’s throwback heartthrob, kd lang. Swoon!! Amazing!
The island is evocative, magical, peaceful, and hard to leave. Now, settled in at home, I find myself pouring over my pictures wistfully, marveling at our newly acquired treasures, and recreating flavors of the place. Cooking is a form of both creative and social expression for me, so I stocked up our kitchen with fruits and fresh produce, and set to work recreating a Salt Spring Island inspired feast for friends as an extension of our travels. I put on Pandora, where, though you can dictate the genre, you never know what song will turn up on the playlist. An old favorite by 10,000 Maniacs came on just as the large, day-glo magenta onion I was chopping began its release of organic tear gas—between the two, I was quickly reduced to a sobbing mess.
These are days you’ll remember
Never before and never since,
Will the whole world be warm as this.
And as you feel it,
You’ll know it’s true
Are blessed and lucky.
Are touched by something
That’ll grow and bloom
The lyrics unfolded a stack of memories tucked away in the folds of my six decades on earth—the rough-scrabble childhood I somehow outlived; the way that survival mode miraculously fosters both toughness and innocence; how chaos is unendurable without a foundation of faith; the loss of friends, family, youth; and the delicious but crushing fact that our kids are now fledging, making their own irreversible trek into adult life. My age came pounding down on me, throwing a spotlight on a constant, recurring, heartbreaking, question: My God, Jhos, what the hell have you done with your life? I stopped chopping, and stood quietly weeping while Natalie Merchant and the band played on:
These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break
These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face
And when you do
You’ll know how it was meant to be, see the signs and know their meaning
It’s true; you’ll know how it was meant to be,
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you.
My thoughts turned to Moses who, old, and at the end of his life is caught in the book of Deuteronomy recounting his adventures—he reiterates his wins and losses, his moments of humiliation and glory, he shares his advice and insight with the Israelites, and most poignantly, he pleads with God to let him enter the promised land and finish the journey. God answers, unequivocally, “No.” Instead Moses is told:
Go up to the top of Pisgah and raise your eyes towards the west and north, south and east, and see it with your own eyes; because you will not go over the Jordan. Rather, you must charge Joshua, and strengthen and endorse him, because he will go over, leading this people, and he will cause them to inherit the land, which you will only see. (Deuteronomy 3:27-28)
And the rest of the Torah is Moses’ swan song—tragic and beautiful, soaring and crashing. Moses, freed from his responsibility, unleashes his full passion, wisdom, and truth. He pivots—where he was once inarticulate, he becomes a poet; his emotional instability transforms into sensitivity. He stands tall, in the full knowledge that his destination was a chimera that motivated his odyssey.
May this Shabbat be a time of reflection—look to the four directions and feel the fullness of your own story—its peaks and valleys, its successes and disasters—see the signs and know their meanings. Indeed, may these be days you remember, and may you know that you are blessed and lucky.