If there were any person in your life, living or dead, with whom you could spend one last day, who would it be? And how would you spend that day? No, I’m not stealing this question from college applications. I’m feeling the pain of the mass murder at Umpqua Community College in Oregon and the killings of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin in Israel. The deep desire to hold close those I love is definitely part of my response.
The preciousness of those we love shouldn’t be a function of their absence, or potential absence, from our lives. That would make love a function of its (potential) scarcity – a notion I reject. Like most of us, though, I’m not immune from such feelings, and that’s the source of my question.
Simply articulating the desire to have the time together, and how the imagined time might be spent, addresses a good part of the yearning.
The desire to cling to those you love – especially as they depart – lies at the center of the final holidays falling on Saturday and Sunday this week (Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah), in this fall season filled with sacred times on the Jewish calendar.
So if I had one more day, and it could only be with one more person, I’d have to go with my dad, who died two and a half years ago. Why? It’s not because there’s some “thing” or issue I wish we could still resolve. I mean, I’m sure there must be – we’re only human, after all. No, when my dad’s mind was disintegrating, one of the family’s greatest comforts (and his) was that he knew we loved him, and we knew he loved us.
I’d simply like a day to walk with my dad, perhaps holding his hand, as I did as a little boy when we walked together on the afternoon of another fall holiday – Yom Kippur. That break from synagogue worship was among the holiest moments, not only on that holy day but in my entire year. It wasn’t the holiness of prayers or the ritual “bells and smells” that may come to mind when the word “holy” is used.
It was holy in that it was among my most important days – genuinely intimate and lasting in impact.
Now, those kinds of walks probably never took more than 20 minutes, so I’m not sure how else we might fill this hypothetical day. But given who my dad was, who he remains in my life, and who I am, the day might include a bit of fishing or tennis, watching him watch my kids and hearing him talk about what a lucky man he is, as we share a good Scotch, overlooking the kind of desert landscape we both love.
Like the holidays, simply articulating the desire to have time together and how the imagined time might be spent addresses a good part of the yearning.
So who would that person be for you if you had one last day to spend with them? You might be surprised to discover that simply answering those questions for yourself will bring that person closer than you imagine. Why? Because they’re really already there. We just need to own our longing and invite them in, not with sadness but with love and joy.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.