Tag Archives: Life

An Open Letter to My Brother on His College Graduation

Dear Adam,

Congratulations, baby bro. You did it. And your family are so, so proud of you.

I missed your graduation because I’m half a world away but all of our grandparents were there and that’s more important. I’m proud of you because I know you worked hard, took chances, made choices, and had adventures. Our grandparents are schepping nachas because you were their first boy and no one knew what to make of you, but everyone loved you immediately. Everyone continued to love you as you grew into the cheerful, funny, passionate person that you are. And look at where you are now. I’m so glad they were there.

I couldn’t be there but I’m thinking of you. I know you have a good head on your shoulders and that’s why there are things I want you to know. Putting my educator hat on, I will say that I wish they’d taught you differently in school. You graduated from an undergraduate business program, after all, and I wish they’d taught you about things that matter. You know you’re supposed to go into the world and make money, with which you’re then supposed to do . . . something. Make more?

But as your older sister, and as person who shares the planet with you and identifies in relation to you, there are a few things I want you to know:

  1. You will always have my love and support, in any way you need it and at any time of night or day. Just call and I’ll be there.
  2. It’s important to take care of yourself. It’s important to eat well, sleep well, and make the time for things that matter. Work can wait, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You can’t do the work if you’re not healthy.
  3. The world is full of choices and they only get bigger as you gain life experience. Make the choices that will help you become the person you want to be. Surround yourself with people who will help you grow.
  4. It’s hard to ask difficult questions and even harder to answer them. Think and feel deeply. Consider the questions, “Who am I? What am I?” Consider them over and over and over. Act accordingly.
  5. You will make many, many mistakes. You will hurt people without knowing you did. You will be hurt. You will cry. And you will learn. Learn from your mistakes and experiences and let them make you a better person.
  6. Beauty is easy to pass by. Don’t. Really, actually, stop and smell the flowers. Spend thirty seconds just looking at a tree. Dance in the rain. Climb the mountain. Look around and protect the simple things – they matter.
  7. Remember that small acts create big ripples. It’s not hard to remember a birthday or write a note or say hello to someone new, but all of those things make a difference. Make them part of who you are.
  8. It’s okay to stop. It’s okay to decide this isn’t working and do the difficult thing and walk away. It’s okay to start over. It’s okay to try something completely new. This is how we learn and grow.
  9. Speak up for what matters to you. It’s one thing to grumble in private and quite another to stomp your feet in public. Stomp your feet and behave with integrity.
  10. The most important thing is to be a good person. Money can wait. Buying a house can wait. Your new avalanche skis can wait. Be a good person. That cannot wait.

Congratulations again. Take some time to celebrate . . . and now go change the world.

I love you,

Rebecca Michelle

Embracing Time

Last weekend, I listened to a Sam Harris podcast with Frank Ostaseski on death and dying. It led me to reflect on various experiences as well as grow curious about those of others. Feeling the need for human connection, I reached out to a friend to talk through this with me. As sometimes happens, people are not as responsive as we wish they’d be and I ended up largely considering these ideas alone:

What happens when you die?

Who and what have you lost?

What are you afraid of?

What do you wish you knew?

What are you glad you don’t know?

Asking myself these questions was a way of becoming recognizing the thoughts that underlie many of my actions and ideas. I thought a lot about Jewish traditions around death and mourning where the emphasis is first on never leaving the body and then on preventing the bereaved from retreating into solitude. In fact, the most important prayer recited for 11 months following the death of a parent, spouse, or child is only permitted to be said in the company of at least ten people. 

As a kid, I reread the chapter on death and dying from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul more times than I can count. Since then, I’ve been to funerals, cemeteries, calling hours, and shiva houses. I’ve experienced the deaths of relatives, family friends, peers, and former students. I don’t think death scares me, but I likely think about dying more than I realize. I think that’s true of all of us.

Once, a friend was getting ready to leave my apartment and I couldn’t help myself and asked, “What are you afraid of?”. We talked for four more hours.

I remember saying that I’m afraid of running out of time to tell people what I want them to know, to tell them how special they are and how much I love them. My friend’s advice to simply do just that has stayed with me since. It has guided the openness with which I have tried to form new relationships and reconnect with people from way back when.

But over time and for a variety of reasons, we lose people. We lose opportunities. We lose the chance to participate in something that matters to us or to engage with people who matter to us. We are sad about these losses. We cry for them. We fear them. We do not know how we will move on without them. We do not know what there is without them.

These losses are painful to us because we feel robbed by time.

What would we have done if we’d had the time?

I’m beginning to understand that maybe it’s not about time at all. Maybe it’s about regretting doing X or not doing Y. Maybe it’s about living fully and presently to avoid the regrets that come from “running out of time”. We can instead can allow ourselves to take chances and explore possibilities, and we can forgive ourselves and others for our doings or lack thereof. This requires living mindfully with an awareness that we can choose to leave nothing unsaid or undone. We can choose to embrace time and use it to spur us along, saying and doing what we wish to say and do.

Thinking about this just yesterday, I made a choice that was hard for me. I asked someone I care about for something I wanted. I got an answer that I didn’t like. And I walked away (more honestly, retreated to the gym) without regret because I hadn’t waited for anything. I hadn’t pretended to be okay when I wasn’t. I’m not left wondering. It’s a strange, new, fragile feeling that I’m actively working to maintain as a positive force rather than slipping into doubt and self-disparagement.

The podcast left me wondering why we so infrequently talk about these ideas – that we are sad when we lose people because of the regrets we have and the forgiveness we haven’t granted, either to ourselves or to others. As Ostaseski emphasized, we need to understand death by seeing it as part of life. As part of living. My meditation teacher reminds us each class that part of the Zen practice of meditation is a preparation for death. After listening to the podcast, I put The Tibetan Book of the Dead on hold at the library; I should have it in about six weeks.

And in the meantime, I think I’ll keep that strange, new feeling of an end without regret.

 

Food for Thought

As loyal readers have gathered, I generally post images and sometimes I mix photography with life. The more astute readers may have also recognized that I often use quotes to describe what others have already articulated so eloquently. Why reinvent the wheel, right?

In lieu of a photo today, I wanted to share some favorite quotes that have followed me (sometimes insistently, sometimes in spite of myself, and sometimes as mantras) through various experiences. I have a scrapbook of comics, articles, and other inspiring/entertaining things with pages and pages dedicated to quotes, but I’ll limit myself to seven.

Did you know that seven is the longest sequence that, on average, the human brain can recall at a time? Really. Click here. That’s why North American phone numbers are seven digits. Sorry. I used to teach psychology. Okay, quotes (in no particular order):

1. “You have to be yourself. Be very honest about who and what you are. And if people still like you, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s their problem.” – Sting

2. “An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body but an evil friend will wound your mind.” – Buddha

3. “Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” – William James

4. “Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” – Josh Billings

5. “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” – Robert Frost

6. “If I am not for myself who will be for me? Yet, if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” – Pirkei Avot 1:14

7. “The true test of character is not what we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” – John Holt

That’s probably enough imparting others’ wisdom for today. If you have good ones, please pass them along! Hope you’re all having a great week!