Our words are very powerful. Sometimes our words are lashon tov (positive speech) and sometimes they are lashon hara (evil tongue). We are able to choose which category our words fall into every time we open our mouths. Sometimes the best course of action is to not open our mouths at all.
We are taught that before we speak, we are the master of our words. After we speak, our words become our master. We must guard our words and think before we speak.
An old saying, is also a good reminder: “Even a fish wouldn’t get into trouble if he kept his mouth shut.”
At every moment in our lives there are always two forces at work. One is drawing us towards the Light and the other is pulling us away from the Light and into the darkness. We can choose to draw towards the Light which leads us to fulfillment or we can choose to live in the darkness of the passing pleasures of gratifying our basest desires. It is incumbent upon us to recognize we are ever in this battle.
Most of us have friends who, at times, are prone to bite off more than they can chew in some area of their lives. It is in those times, they need our friendship the most. A few days ago I received a call from a friend who took on an assignment only to find he was not quite ready to take it on. I suppose he could’ve admitted defeat and given up. He chose to reach out for help instead. It was a learning experience for him professionally and an opportunity for me to share a life experience with my friend while reflecting on changes in my life that fill my heart with gratitude.
Rosh Hashanah is just about here. The days preceding have been days of introspection and reflection for me and many others. Looking back over the landscape of the past year there is much to be grateful for. The year has been full of life and full of challenges. The challenges make life more meaningful to the extent I choose to view them in a redemptive way. Some days I do that well, other days, not so good. Ever been there?
The world in which we live seems to grow more evil with each passing day. At times, it is difficult to say, “This, too, is for the good.” Some of what we see and experience is so inexplicable the mind can barely comprehend the intensity of emotions these acts evoke within us.
It is incumbent on us to make our world better, to stand up for those who cannot stand up themselves, to speak out against injustice, yet many of us fail to do so. There are a myriad of reasons for reluctance to become involved but at the end of the day, silence only encourages the bully.
I was recently contacted by a chaplain who oversees an in-prison faith-based, character building/recovery program. He was given my name and reached out hoping I could gather some supplies and equipment he needs for the program and for which the State of Florida does not provide adequate funding. I am honored to be asked. I will do all I can to assist him; thereby also helping the men he works with by facilitating change in their lives. I’ve been there, done that and am grateful for those who assisted me in that part of my journey out of darkness and into light.
It has been almost a month since I’ve published a musing. I apologize. I appreciate the concern many of you have expressed and I also appreciate your prayers and support. This past month has been difficult. I have struggled with many personal difficulties including some serious health issues and the loss of a lifelong friend.
When I began writing my musings I determined in my heart I would try not to write in a manner that would bring others down. I have shared some intensely personal and painful experiences in what I hope has been a redemptive manner.
There are things that really make me angry which creates a conundrum for me. Trying to balance the giving into uncontrolled anger as a form of idolatry with the instances in which justifiable anger is allowed, is for me, akin to trying to make a Slinky go up the stairs. ( If you have to ask what a slinky is, you are not as old as me and you missed one of the greatest toys ever).
I will be the first to admit I am not always the most patient person. There are times that giving the “benefit of the doubt” is not the first thought that comes to mind when I feel offended or angry. There are times I have such awful thoughts in response to injustice, abuse, and other things that I dare not utter them lest they make G-d want to drink Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. (For my literalistic readers please understand this an overstated example and I hope you get the point.) I am sure there are many others, though they may not admit it, who have the same thoughts I have.
Shabbos comes as a sweet gift to us. A chance to rest, to reflect and to re-energize. I don’t necessarily believe Sabbath is as much about a day to rest as it is a day to reflect on who G-d is and how much we depend on Him to get through each day and each week.
I love the outdoors, the woods, the fields of flowers and the water. I love the peaceful and insulating quality of being in the water. This past Shabbos I visited a small reservoir with a waterfall and for me in that place, I felt the presence of G-d. The flowing water was to me an example of how His love washes over me. Caught up in that moment I felt very connected to the One who created me and sustains me. It is through moments such as these I find the words to express my gratitude to G-d and for His many gifts.
“Are you watching me?” cries the little girl while standing on the precipice of a new experience. The water, though inviting and very familiar to her, presents an opportunity for her to try something new and overcome a fear. Her daddy awaits her, standing in the pool assuring her of safety, yet she wants to be sure he is watching, that he notices her every move and validates how very precious she is to him. The time this father is spending with his daughter is a precious gift and the attention the daughter craves, if given, deepens her sense of self-worth and reinforces her value to her father. Focused time and positive reinforcement are treasures that we should offer to not only our children and family but to as many others as possible.
Many people go through life with the belief that G-d is mad at them and out to get them. This logic is based on the misguided notion that their actions have created animosity with G-d and brought the wrath of G-d on them. This logic is defective and dupes individuals into believing all hope is lost, there is no good within them and life is pointless. In the process of accepting those false truths about themselves these tormented souls fail to acknowledge the spark of G-d within them.
We live in a day when stress is on the rise. Hostilities escalate into rage resulting in increased violence and heartbreaking devastation. Random violence is on the rise. The anger in our world is, at times, tangible. You can sense it in people you pass on the street. At times it is downright scary.
We all come to that place in life when our immortality bangs into the reality that we will one day shuffle off this mortal coil. I will be 55 next month, G-d willing. I look back over the landscape of my life and am grateful that although the journey has been wild at times, I am still here. There are harsh realities that come along with growing older. There are also blessings. What we choose to focus on shapes our attitude towards the changes this new season of life brings.
Many of us are prisoners to our past. Often times this flows from our inability to forgive ourselves and move forward. Other times it is caused by our association with people who do not have our best interests at heart and who choose to be historians of our failures while ignoring their own issues. There is a vast difference in receiving constructive criticism and heeding the correction offered by those who mean well and allowing ourselves to be berated by mean-spirited individuals. It behooves us to learn to discern between the two.
Making the choice to remove ourselves from toxic relationships is difficult. The fear of being alone often times imprisons us in situations that lead to unhealthy choices. Also, the propensity to judge others unfairly in deciding to sever ties presents challenges of its own.
Every year Pesach invites us to clean out our homes and our hearts and experience afresh the beauty of redemption. My heart is very light as Pesach approaches. My moral and spiritual inventories continue to reveal areas of struggles and places in need of additional attention. Conversely, the same inventories reveal a distance between my selfish and destructive behaviors of days gone by and where I am on my path today.
I have often heard it said miracles convey the power of G-d but time conveys the grace. Grace defies definition for me. I am unable to reduce such a wonderful gift to words. The truth that G-d, who unlike us, chooses the least, the smallest, the most unlikely to accomplish amazing things is beyond my comprehension. As humans we often seek out the best and the brightest to partner with. G-d chooses the willing, the broken, the ones who seek Him??
Writer’s note: Last year, while incarcerated in Bridgewater, I was a volunteer at the Boston Marathon, passing out bottles of water to runners crossing the finish line. That day is indelibly stamped on my heart. The following is my musing, written shortly after the events of that memorable day.
For as long as I live, Monday, April 15, 2013, will be a poignant reminder to me that anything and everything can change in the space of a minute. I awoke excited, knowing I would be volunteering to serve water near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. Others didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm, as we set up tables and broke the seals on over 30,000 bottles of water, working with volunteers from Tufts University, MIT and John Hancock Insurance. Our table was about 50 yards from the finish line.
Many people choose to live their lives somewhere between “regret” and “fret.” Being overly concerned with “what if” or “if only,” or stressed and overwhelmed by what may happen in the future, distracts our attention from life in the immediacy of today.
Life is a series of in-betweens, transitions from one season to the next. We all have regrets about the past and we should learn from them. We will also have questions about the future, but we must not allow them to overwhelm us. Moreso, we must be present and aware of the sacredness of this day, of the wonder of it that transforms the pain of the struggle into the joy of growing and ascending. And we must be faithful to the One who restored our souls to us this morning, and to His commandments.