Soren Kierkegaard said: “It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”
Though we’re always living forward, the life lessons we learn help to shape our future. Since this is the season of self-examination leading to the High Holidays, I offer a list of 32 life lessons I’ve learned – there are others, but the number 32 is a significant one in Jewish mystical tradition. It equals the 22 letters of the Hebrew aleph bet plus the 10 “words” of the covenant, and it’s the number equivalent for the Hebrew word lev (lamed – bet), heart, which the mystics teach are the number of pathways to God.
I offer the following as a hedge against the toxicity in the political environment in this country in these days leading to the High Holidays. Some of these I’ve borrowed gratefully from a journalist named Regina Brett and published in the Plain Dealer from Cleveland, Ohio (hers are in italics).
They’re not necessarily a way to God, but a means to a healthier, wiser, and more sacred way of living, at least as I’ve come to believe in them.
- God gave us life and our natural abilities only – everything else is either up to us or a result of dumb luck.
- Life isn’t always fair, but it’s still good.
- Life is short, so cut your losses early.
- Begin planning for retirement as a teen by developing your passions and interests, for they’ll sustain you when you get old.
- Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up your present.
- You don’t have to win every argument, so at a certain point stop arguing.
- Love your spouse/partner above all other people and things. If you aren’t married, then nurture the special friendships in your life.
- Don’t compare your life to anyone else’s as you have no idea what their journey has been all about.
- If you can’t publish what you want to say or do on the front page of The NY Times, don’t say or do it.
- Try not to speak ill of anyone, but if you must, do so only with trusted friends and then only so as to understand better how to cope better with people like that.
- Don’t procrastinate to see doctors. It may save your life.
- Carpe diem. Take pleasure in this day and do what inspires you for we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
- When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
- Breathe deeply as it calms the body, mind, heart, and soul.
- Take your shoes off whenever possible as studies indicate that doing so will prolong your life.
- Too much alcohol and drugs dull the mind and loosen the lips compelling us to say things we may mean but don’t want said and to say things we may not mean at all.
- Get a dog or a cat for the love for and from such a creature is unlike anything else we’ll ever know.
- Over prepare, and then go with the flow.
- It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
- Speak the truth but only when you know you can be effective and only if it doesn’t cause another person unnecessary harm or hurt. Otherwise, be quiet.
- Stand up to bullies wherever they are and whenever you encounter them.
- Time does heal almost everything.
- Don’t fear or resist change for it is natural, necessary, and an opportunity for growth.
- Don’t envy other people’s talent, circumstances or life – you already have everything you require.
- Love isn’t just a matter of the heart – it comes from God.
- Learn Torah as often as you can – it will enrich, change, and enhance your life and it will inspire you to do what you might never choose to do otherwise.
- Support the State of Israel as the democracy and Jewish State that it is regardless of its imperfections, for Israel remains the best hope for the Jewish people to create a utopia worthy of the ethics of the Biblical prophets.
- Be modest.
- Be forgiving.
- Be kind.
- Be generous.
- Be grateful.
Now, let’s live our lives forward.