So I go down to see my parents in Maryland. And even though it’s a plane ride of less than an hour, it’s a day with terrible winds and the plane is rocky and I’m feeling sick because I left my stomach somewhere over the swamps of New Jersey and I’m irritated because the rental car place didn’t have the car I’d ordered and I’m driving a car that makes so much noise I’m getting a headache.
The rental car has satellite radio with 130 stations but I’m listening to a news station and they’re going on and on about Brittany Spears. I’m getting irritated and tense listening to every detail of the story and interviews and analyses about Britney Spears. I’m waiting for it to be over. I get to my hometown of Bethesda and of course there’s terrible traffic on the main road. And then I just can’t take the bumper to bumper anymore and out of spite I get out of the line and turn right on a side road into my old neighborhood.
And then it happens. All of a sudden, I realize that I’m driving down Sonoma Road, and the road is downhill and I remember that when I was a kid I’d ride down Sonoma Road without holding onto the handlebars. I was such a good little boy and I had never disobeyed my parents but I let go of the handlebars and waved my arms like an eagle. Now all these years later I turn the radio off and I open the windows and I feel the wind in my face.
And I come out of it. And I realize: I’m going to see my parents. I’m in my 50s and I have two parents and they’re doing okay. And they live in the same house where I grew up. How lucky can I be? So you’re tired? So what?
So you have a headache? So what?
So you’re driving a car that’s breaking the sound barrier?
You’re going to miss this.
You’re going to turn around and they’ll have moved to a different set-up and you’ll never see the home that you grew up in again. And you won’t have the chance to drive down Sonoma Rd. again and remember the wind in your face and the freedom you felt when you broke the rules for the first time in your life.
And I won’t even allow myself to think of all the other things I’m going to miss.
So I come into my house, and I don’t even bother to tell my parents about the lousy plane or the noisy car or my misplaced stomach because those things don’t matter any more.
Only they matter.
People say, “Live in the moment.” That’s fine, but if you are only in the moment you cannot see it for what it is.
You must be in the moment but also outside it, appreciating it with a long-term perspective.
You have to live in a day but also learn how to be reflective about it.
We talk all the time about how the years went by in a blur.
Of course they were a blur: We forgot to focus our emotional cameras.
It’s all a blur if you don’t focus.
And in case I missed the point, and because G-d is such a funny guy, the next day when I got back into the rental car, they were still talking about Britney Spears, but instead of being irritated this time I was smart enough to change the station, to a country music station, and there was a song on the radio by a singer named Trace Adkins called “You’re Gonna Miss This.”
It’s about this young mother with little kids and there’s a problem with the water heater so she calls the plumber and he comes and the kids are screaming and she tells him that her nerves are shot from these kids and she can’t take it. And he asks their ages.
And she says they’re three and five.
And he says that his are 32 and 35.
You may not believe it now
But you’re going to miss this
You’re going to want this back
You’re going to wish these days
Hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this
Think of that young mother as an example for all of us.
We’re so irritated with so much in our lives, with the babies screaming or the traffic jams or the noisy rental car or the stupid thing someone said to us at work or the latest insult from Uncle Morty that we don’t realize a simple truth:
We’re going to miss the very things we’re irritated about now.
We’re irritated with our jobs. We can’t stand going to work every day. But one of these days, we’re going to miss the structure of the workday. I know a man who worked in the same office building for twenty years. It was a grind, it was boring routine; he never liked what he did but he needed to make a living somehow.
And he counted the days until retirement. He left that job the first possible day he could.
But then, after he retired, he didn’t know what to do with himself. I had pleaded with him to plan what he was going to do in his retirement as carefully as he had planned for it financially. But he didn’t listen.
And he just didn’t know what to do every morning.
And so he came up with an unusual solution. Every morning, he got dressed and drove down to that same office building, parked in the parking lot, went inside and bought a cup of coffee from the counter in the lobby, and then went home.
You think you can’t stand going to work? You’re going to miss it.
I talk to kids who are irritated with college. They say: We’re in college and we’re under such pressure.
And I say: Are you kidding? You’re going to remember these years. It may be the best time of your life in terms of your social life.
Would you just enjoy it? Would you just appreciate what you have? It all passes by so fast. You’re going to miss it.
Are you a member of an organization and you can’t stand one of the other members? And it’s so bad you want to quit? I’ve got a story for you. In 1976, I was a student rabbi in Beach Haven, New Jersey and there were two men who vied for control. We’ll call them Herman Greenblatt and Burt Marcus. These two guys could not stand each other. At a Board meeting, if one voted yes, the other one voted no even if he hadn’t heard the motion. As a young rabbi, I found myself right in the middle, smack in the middle between two machers in a very personal feud. One would storm out of the shul and I’d go running after him, pleading with him to come back. And then when he would come back, the other one would be angry with me for being a peacemaker.
But a couple of years later, when Herman died, and I ran into Burt and told him, he was terribly saddened. He looked like he’d just lost his best friend.
You think you can’t stand your enemies? You’re even going to miss them.
Our friends Wayne and Barbara Shore lost their son Lenny last March at the age of 44. One way of remembering Lenny, and remembering all of our loved ones, is to tell stories about them. Lenny was a scientist and he had a great brain but he sometimes lacked common sense.
Wayne tells a story about when Lenny moved from his college dorm to his first apartment. Wayne tried to explain to Lenny that he would need to arrange for the utilities like the lights and the phone. Lenny insisted that he didn’t need to do anything. He was then surprised when he moved in and there was no electricity. At first, he thought someone had stolen all of the light bulbs. Wayne told him that for a couple of days, he would know what it was like to be alive in the 1800s before there was electricity. Lenny said, “Yea, but they didn’t know what they were missing.”
To use Lenny’s words, we live like we don’t know what we’re going to miss. Our electricity comes from our interpersonal relations, from the people in our families, the people we work with, the people in our synagogue; without people, we’re just sitting in our dark apartments.
There’s a wonderful reading we’re about to do at Yizkor, called “We Remember Them,” by Rabbi Jack Reimer and Sylvia Kamens. It’s true that, as the reading goes, we always remember the people we loved. But the hard part is not remembering them; the hard part is missing them. It’s hard to miss them when you know you’re never going to see them again in our lifetimes. It feels like a big gaping hole in your gut and nothing can fill it.
If you know how that feels, apply that knowledge to your life right now.
Know what you’re going to miss before it happens.
For every stage of your life, for all of its problems and irritations, you’re going to miss it.
You’re even going to miss the people you can’t stand because they, too, are on the landscape of your life.
Like the plumber tells the young mother in the song, you’re going to miss your children when they’re no longer children and don’t need you in the same way.
And if some of our loved ones are older and sick, as hard as it is on them and on us, we’re going to miss them when they’re gone.
And when you are older, you’re going to miss having the ability to work or drive.
We can’t stop the process of life from unfolding.
But we can appreciate every stage for what it is. That’s what I’m asking from you, not to be so consumed with the everyday problems but to bring a wiser perspective to every day of your life. I’m asking you to look at the year ahead with a positive and optimistic outlook, to appreciate the people around you.
So when you talk to your friends about what their rabbis talked about in their sermons on these High Holidays, and you’re jealous because their rabbis solved the problems of illegal immigration and the terrible economy, just say something like this:
“My rabbi was really weird this year; he talked a lot about G-d. He said, and I know how crazy this sounds, that G-d is in this me and in this you and that G-d is the better voice in our heads and G-d is even on this phone line that connects us.
And you know, he didn’t even try to solve the problems of the world, but he did talk a lot about us, nice people who are predictably irrational, who don’t understand what they have and how much they’re going to miss those things and those people that they take for granted.
And he said that G-d is in the still small voice inside us, and that when we pray, when we shut out all the noise and the static and our worries and our irritations, prayer can pull us out of the immediate moment so we can hear that voice.” That’s what I want you to tell your friends.
So I’m sorry for being unable to solve the economic and military crises during these holidays. But I’m not sorry for pushing you, and myself, to look at our own lives and attitudes differently and with a better perspective.
When I say Yizkor, I not only remember and miss people in my life, but I hear them telling me that I’m alive and that I have to appreciate every day and every person.
They take me back to Sonoma Rd., and I feel the wind in my face, waving my arms like an eagle, free of all my worries, loving my life for exactly what it is.