Sunday, April 08, 2007

Environmentally Sound Blogging: A Recycled Post

The following is my upcoming Canadian Jewish News column, which recycles these two posts (this one and this one). Let me know what you think!

My Secret: The Wisdom of 400 Funerals

A new DVD + Self Help book phenomenon has arrived: The Secret.

What is The Secret? It’s the “Law of Attraction”. “Based” on Quantum Physics, the Law of Attraction asserts that our thoughts change the actual energy of the universe, reshaping reality. In other words, what you think physically changes the world. The “Law of Attraction” is “the secret to unlimited joy… everything you have ever wanted”.

Frankly, this is solipsistic superstition that only a narcissistic coward could love. The Secret appeals to people who are afraid to accept how dangerous the world can be, and are so self absorbed they think they can change the world with their own daydreams. In real life, puppies die. Car accidents happen. Hurricanes occur. All the visualization in the world will not change this.I know this because I’m a Rabbi, and I’ve officiated at over 400 funerals.

But I have a “secret” of my own. My excessive funeral attendance has actually left me with a renewed sense of purpose.

Every life is too short. I remember attending the funeral of a 103 year old woman, and watching her daughter cry at the cemetery. Most people would accept 103 as a ripe old age. So why did the daughter cry? Anticipating my question, she said to me: “it doesn’t matter when they go.... it’s always too soon”.

Life is often bitter as well. As prepare for the funeral with the deceased’s family, I often hear about struggles with bankruptcy, tragedy, and illness. Indeed, personal difficulties are so ubiquitous one is inclined to agree with Buddha that “life is suffering”.

But at these 400 funerals I discovered something else: Life is wonderful.

Eulogies are the core of a Jewish funeral. They come to honor the dead, by explaining how the deceased made a difference. And sometimes, the difference the deceased makes is with the little things they did. Like how they hugged their grandchildren, or the corny jokes they used to tell that somehow brought smiles to everyone’s faces. Even the shortest, toughest lives are filled with meaningful moments.

More inspiring are anecdotes of struggle. A father, weakened by chemotherapy, who takes his young son to the movies. A mother who perseveres in making a family dinner right after undergoing surgery. A grandfather who spends his final day writing a letter to his grandchildren.
At one such funeral I came to a realization:

The awareness that life is tough is a prerequisite to finding happiness.

Expecting everything to be alright sets you up for disappointment. If you truly want happiness, you have to fight for it. I learned the only alternative to denial and cynicism is to become what I call a “happiness warrior”.

Happiness warriors accept the harsh landscape of life, and are willing to commit themselves to the battle for happiness.

That’s my secret, the combined wisdom of 400 funerals.

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