I prefer to eat organic food. I’m sure that the conventional produce is grown only with the finest synthetic pesticides available for ingestion, but… no thank you. I was amused when a comedian (Jimmy Fallon?) quipped, “‘organic food’, or, as our grandparents used to call it: ‘food'”. We have introduced so many man-made chemicals into our food supply that we have a special name for food grown with only naturally occurring elements.
Water seems to be following a similar path. I remember as a child drinking water from fountains and faucets everywhere we went. But now, we have bottled water. Bottled water! We actually pay money for a plastic container filled with water. Unthinkable when I was young. But in these modern days the water that came into my sink in Saint Louis Park (Minnesota) had such a taste that I used to trudge to the co-op and shlep jugs of “reverse-osmosis” water home. If I remember my son’s school project correctly, this is due to an old creosote processing plant in the area that closed over forty years ago. Forty years, and the water still tastes awful. We reap what we sow.
So today I was wondering about air. Is that the next basic human commodity that we will poison to such an extent that we’ll bottle “fresh air” and make it available at every gas station across the country?
Okay. “Simmer down, Shimon,” I hear you murmur. Things aren’t that bad. And if that were the sum total of my curmudgeon-mind musings this morning, I probably would not have posted.
But, tonight, the Jewish new year begins, and it’s time to evaluate all of our relationships and take a fearless and searching moral inventory. What to make amends for, what to change, what to foster and encourage.
And it got me thinking: am I so consumed by my own struggles that, like a creosote plant, I’m slowly polluting the environment around me? Am I taking my relationships with those around me for granted? They are my lifeline, my source of comfort and strength. Am I tending to the garden of my relationships with enough natural and organic elements of my heart, or am I giving rote and mechanical effort, too much synthetic pesticide?
I have to be here, that I know. I have to inhabit the moments I’m given. Because children grow up quickly, and grown-ups can leave suddenly, and before we know it, we’re looking back over our lives, wondering where the time and the people went and, often, wishing we had done things differently.
How can I avoid that regret?
I plan to practice “dying” a little. We Jews do this intensely on Yom Kippur (coming up in ten days). I intend to try on the death perspective all day long, reviewing my life from that vantage point. What will I pine do be able to differently, or just one more time?
I expect to look at every relationship in my life, every role I play: child of G-d, father, brother, uncle, friend, writer, lover, citizen, consumer, Jew, homeowner, etc. On my deathbed, what will I wish I had done?
And then, I hope to gather up that wisdom, and, like a gardener, pour it gently back into my daily life in small, loving ways. Sustainable, renewable ways. A little here, a little there.
I have an inkling, already, that one of the major things is just opening my heart and soul to others without trying to be something. Without trying to be anything. Not trying to have wise answers or know what to say or what to do. Just sharing the moment-by-moment struggle. We’re in this together.
I think that’s the most powerful gift we have to offer others. And ourselves.
But we’ll see (G-d willing!). Maybe there will be some surprises in there, too. Things that arise in the space that Yom Kippur creates in time, giving the still small voice an opportunity to be heard most clearly.
I hope, Gentle Reader, that you have an opportunity for such a practice. And if so, then in the days to come, may you learn much from spending more time listening, more time hearkening to that inner wisdom.
And may we remember to act in accordance with the basic truth of our life here: we’re all in this together.