I’m nearly finished with my freelance piece about death according to five major religions, and this morning I spent about an hour on the phone with Rabbi Deborah Goldmann. Similar to my conversations with an Imam and the director of a Hindu temple, I went into the conversation knowing very little about the topic. I wanted to learn from a place of little bias or foreknowledge.
One of the most compelling components of death according to Judaism is that one must always be ready to face it, and to do that effectively one must live with intention. It means asking for forgiveness when you’ve wronged someone, making sure those you love know it, and thanking God every morning for giving you another day of life. Rabbi Goldmann said, “You should live life everyday like it’s your last day. Students ask how do you know when you’re going to die, but you don’t know! So go to bed every night knowing you might not wake up.”
It’s a jarring thought to have that image in my mind daily, to lay down my head each night and think, “This could be the last time I’m in this bed, next to this man, in this house with these children, living this life.”
What could be gained by acknowledging that time is fleeting?
Last week, a young mother in our community – only 34 years old – died unexpectedly, leaving behind her husband and four small children. It is the cruelest of realities, but it happens. It happens all the time and there’s no rhyme or reason for it.
So maybe there’s something behind this readiness taught in Judaism.
“You should always ask forgiveness from people you’ve wronged,” she said. “Judaism hopes you’re doing that year round so your conscience is clear. Tell people you love them. Go to bed every night with a clean slate. You’ve done what you need to do. And then, thank God in the morning when you wake up and be the person moving in the right direction.”
I am a Protestant Christian and my faith tells me that there is a reward on the other side of this life – a new life in the presence of God – but I embrace the Rabbi’s words here. I cannot dismiss the wisdom and inspiration we draw from our neighbors, friends, and family members who believe differently from us. Life is a reward all its own, and if we acknowledge that each moment is a gift, fully and supernaturally, then how much more important is the way we spend our time?
Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed.