When I was a kid, I assumed that my grandparents had been old forever. When I was a kid, I never understood why people lied about being twenty-nine. Why make up such an old age if you’re trying to sound young?
Well, folks, I just passed twenty-nine and have officially entered my thirties (gasp!). Big birthdays make me reflect on life (OK, just to be fair, so do half-eaten danishes, non-working can openers, and missing cordless phones). And so I’ve been doing some thinking about life, death, and the time in between these last few days.
“Thirty is young,” my thirty-one and a half year old husband tells me. And he’s right. Technically, it is. If forty is the new thirty, then I only just entered my twenties, and who doesn’t want to be in their twenties?
Furthermore, if the average life expectancy of an American woman is 79.1 years, then only I’ve used up 31.93% of my expected life (of course, not considering the fact that life expectancies are averages for the population and not guarantees for individual people).
And speaking of no guarantees, my four year old daughter, who seems to have inherited the morbidity gene from her mama, likes to causually ask me things like, “You’re not going to die when we’re kids, right, Mommy?” “God willing,” I’ll reply with a nervous laugh.
But even if I do live a long life, which please God, I will, what’s a matter of decades in the span of eternity? Not much more than a blink of an eye. The sage Rabbi Tarfon once said (in the book Ethics of our Fathers), “The day is short…”
When we’re kids, it seems like the time we have here is endless. My four year old daughter also asks me questions like, “Mommy, when I’m 101, how old will my sister be?” Oldness to her is as far away as the moon at this point.
“…the work is abundant…” I feel angst around big birthdays because not only am I reminded of how quickly life goes by, I also think about how much there is to accomplish before it does – how much I hope to give to the world, how much more I know that I need to grow, how much lacking still remains within me.
“…the workers are lazy…” Despite how much there is to accomplish, we humans are about as lazy as it comes. We’d rather strap and ab contour belt to our waists while we sit and watch television than break a sweat from actual exercise. We’d rather eat double churned ice cream (which essentially makes the ice cream machine work twice as hard to make creamy low-fat ice cream) than eat full-fat ice cream and burn off the extra calories with our own efforts.
Will I use my talents to their full capacity or waste them to due stubbornness, laziness, and distraction? Will I work tirelessly to always put my spiritual ideals before my physical comforts, or will I be shortsighted, and continue to do things like choose the momentary pleasure of sharing a piece of juicy gossip over the spiritual goal of keeping it to myself?
“…the reward is great…” The Jewish concept of meaning and purpose is really so simple. Follow the rules of the Torah to connect with your Maker and live life not only with trust and hope that everything in this world will ultimately work out, but that the reward in the World to Come will be more sublime than anything we could ever imagine.
But despite that, we remain indifferent, get caught up in pettiness, in the everyday nitty gritty and forget all too quickly how simple the mission is. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with how much there is to accomplish and psych ourselves out. “Why bother?” we wonder. “It’s not like we could actually do it all anyway.”
“…and the Master of the house is insistent.” Despite how imperfect we humans are, Judaism believes that not only has God given us a slew of commandments to perform, He has high hopes of us actually succeeding at them. Some commandments are easier to live by, others are more challenging.
As a person who’s experienced many successes AND many failures in my personal spiritual journey, there are two rules that I live by. Number one – it’s never too late to do the right thing. Every single moment of life is an opportunity for a new beginning for whomever wants it.
Number two – keep on trying no matter how many times you’ve failed. It may be frustrating, disappointing, even embarrassing to attempt the same thing over and over again only to watch yourself fail over and over again, but the desire and the effort exerted to grow spiritually is nearly as important as the actual results, according to Jewish thought.
Though growing older may make us want to hold on to the physical aspects of our youth, such efforts will never bring more than limited results, for despite all the Botox, hair dye, and surgery in the world, the clock keeps on ticking. No matter how much one exercises or how well one eats, grasping at youth is a futile task as time is meant to cause our bodies to wither.
Time is only on our side when it comes to spiritual endeavors, for every moment we have in this world gives us an added opportunity to strengthen our neshamas (souls). So let’s stay focused and resolute at the task at hand – “the day is short and the work is abundant.”