As the years have passed, my life has become more and more systematic, planned out, and stable. Once I was willing to set out on a new adventure at the drop of a hat; to stay up all night because ‘something came up suddenly’; to take risks, or to change my plans because something new appeared that interested me. Friends could and would drop by any time, day or night. And when I was working on something that fascinated me, it would not be unusual at all for me to work all night. Nowadays, I make plans for visits with friends. My calendar is very organized. I try to take a walk every morning. I try to take a nap in the afternoon. I’ve become a creature of habit.
But even so, the habits aren’t iron clad. There are times when I’m willing to make an exception to my regular schedule, and do something completely unexpected or unplanned. It doesn’t happen that often. But when it does, there is that sense of the immediacy of life, and I am reminded once again that nothing can be taken for granted.
In the last few weeks, I have been a little busier than usual… and at the same time, a little weaker than I’m used to, for a number of reasons which I won’t go into here. It has been cold in Jerusalem. And I had pushed myself a bit too hard some weeks ago. All of which supported my being as methodical as possible in order to get my strength back. But then I got word that a very dear friend of mine was quite ill. He lives in the Galilee, which is quite a distance from Jerusalem. Visiting him would take a half a day’s drive, and if I visited, I would have to stay there for a few days. And to make things still more complicated, I knew the holiday of Purim was approaching, and it is my custom to celebrate the holiday with friends and family in my home in Jerusalem. I didn’t really feel up to the trip. And I had some work that I wanted to finish before setting off to do anything else. But if a friend is ill, it’s not something you can put off for a better time. I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to stop everything and just do it.
As it happened, after the cold and the storms, we were blessed with a bit of spring weather. The sun came out, and it warmed up some. I packed up everything I might possibly need, and set out in the middle of this week for the north. Packing up, for me, meant transferring any sort of files and work in process to my little computer, and that too was a bit of a job. And of course, I had to cancel some plans, and make some arrangements to cover the time I’d be away from home.
Fortunately, luck was with me from the moment I set out on this trip. I managed to pick the right hour to get on the highway, and avoided the more exasperating traffic jams along the way. The music that I picked out was just the right thing to supply a fine sound track as I headed north in my trusty car, and though there was a fog bank around the Tel Aviv area, and what we call the central area of Israel… and it may very well have been smog and not fog… by the time I got into the Galilee, I was overcome by the beauty of the greenery. There were wild flowers everywhere, and it was a pleasure to observe them.
When getting together with my friend David, I had some long hard thoughts about illness and infirmity, and what it really means to reach the end of the road. I found myself remembering how I had felt when I was very ill myself. I hadn’t wanted visitors, or cheering up, or social contacts. Yet, it is a precept of our religion to visit the ill. I thought about that, and wondered how we can ease the discomfort of a fellow human being when we encounter their suffering. Regardless of what they may think they want, or be in the mood for. And remembering how I had been quite willing to leave this world, and ready for it in every way… I couldn’t help but notice that it was harder to be a witness to another’s incapacity and illness than it was to be aware of my own.
And then, I became aware that in such a situation, we have a much greater capacity for empathy than we have at the celebration of a joyous event. How often have I been at a wedding, and had a good time, and truly celebrated, without spending too much of that time trying to connect to the souls of those whose celebration I was joining? It made me realize how precious such a meeting really is. And there is the hope that the experience is in someway mutual and strengthening.