Why is it that some moments are so vivid that years later, we can still see, smell, touch and feel them? And yet others, no matter how much we try, are lost in the sea of time? Unless you eat the same thing every morning, you would think I am crazy for asking what you had for breakfast a couple of years ago. However, if I asked you describe the moment you got married, there is a more than decent chance you would remember something powerfully descriptive about that specific moment in time.
Indeed, this is why we mark time; to remember; to connect the dots of our years; to understand the meaning of our lives.
And that is why I have been convinced this year, more than any in my life, that we should absolutely mark milestone moments. Not because any one year or breath is more important than the next. It is just that we often forget that any of them are important at all. It is not our fault. We are human beings, who until we are faced with finality, somehow believe that we keep on going. Our days blend one into the other. We get caught up in binge-watching; our eyes glaze over as the scenery of our lives move as fast as the fuzzy scenery outside of a fast moving train. We wish time away, waiting for the cold season to become warm and then for the searing heat to cool off. And then, we get older and sometimes we forgot to notice.
Milestone celebrations are often mocked or discarded as frivolous or narcissistic in their pursuit. Why spend the money, buy the outfit, make the montage or ask people to go out of their way? I could imagine an entire Seinfeld episode created around the idea of Jerry and his friends bent out of shape because they are forced to stop their lives to mark the occasion of another.
For sure, sometimes there is excess and self-aggrandizement. But there is just as much egoism in not pausing to express gratitude for life, as there is in making too big a deal of one’s self. There is actually a sweet humility we are forced to experience by having to stop and notice that life is passing us by.
This is a year when I have been forced to stop… blessed to stop, perhaps, several times. I turned fifty in October. My father died in November. This spring, I celebrate ten years of service as the rabbi of my congregation. For each of these, I have wondered what is too much. I have wondered why I need to draw so much attention. Please know that I took no around-the-world trips, nor did I have the Rolling Stones comes to any of these occasions. But I wondered what I was looking for, why the need for any hoopla at all.
And then I realized, that I need/ed it and so do the people around me. We know that our lives are important, but sometimes it is important to be reminded. We know that our days are numbered, but sometimes it is important for us to be reminded about the precious nature of each solitary one. We know that we love and are loved, but sometimes it feels renewing to be reminded that we count, that we touch and change people, that lives are altered because we exist.
We need to be reminded and so do the people around us need to know that we need them; that without their presence, we would not be ourselves. They need to know that when they show up for us, it reaches the depth of our hearts and spirits. These are the moments when we show up and present the other with the missing pieces; the moments when we remember what wholeness feels like… so much so that we take that feeling into future years and make meaning deeper and more purposeful.
At fifty, I felt blessed. When my father died, I felt healed by community. At ten years of service in my congregation, I feel like what I do really counts. I have often felt blessed, healed and important, but the reminders really come in handy. I suggest that all of us pause to do the same. Here is to fulfillment and wellbeing for all.
Matthew D. Gewirtz is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. He is the author of The Gift of Grief: Finding Peace, Transformation and Renewed Life after Great Sorrow? (Random House). A strong advocate of social justice, Matt Gewirtz is a founding executive committee member of the Newark Coalition for Hope and Peace, an interfaith organization of Jews, Christians and Muslims that is committed to ending gang violence in Newark. Matt Gewirtz strives to find joy and meaning in his daily life and is committed to helping do the same for others. His greatest joy comes from his wife, Lauren and their three beautiful children.