This past Shabbat, Rabbi Sarah Shulman, at Congregation Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver, shared a teaching about Ecclesiastes (Kohelet). The Jewish community traditionally reads Ecclesiastes during Sukkot.
Rabbi Shulman addressed the concept of dynamic obsolescence of the objects we acquire in our lives (like cell phones, refrigerators and computers) and the fact that our bodies are also built with planned obsolescence (our knees and hips!).
Sukkot is the ultimate holiday of impermanence,– we live in temporary huts, subject to the temperament of the weather and our environment.
In the reading of Kohelet, King Solomon questions–
- What is the meaning of life, if it is so transient, so temporary?
- What real value is there for a person, if everything is temporary?
- If everything is temporary, where is the meaning?
Today marks seven years since my mastectomy.
(I guess my breasts were also designed for planned obsolescence.) In the months that followed surgery, I endured four rounds of chemotherapy—and one month after my last treatment, our 11 year old son, Koby, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an incurable brain tumor, on March 24, 2016.
Everything is temporary.
Breasts, brains, stability, health. Nothing lasts forever.
Tich Nhat Hanh teaches, “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”
In the past seven years we have been reminded over and over again, that nothing is our own. Our health, our children, the dreams we built. Nothing is promised.
We just have this moment.
In the past seven years, we have striven to rebuild, with a constant awareness of the impermanence of life. Our now 14 year-old twins are thriving. They were seven when Koby was diagnosed. Half their life ago. This year, I turned 49- seven sevens. It’s not lost on me– these cycles of cycles. Sevens in Jewish tradition represent cycles of completion, cycles towards Sabbath, and of shleimut (wholeness). Perhaps my wholeness will come in accepting the brokenness.
Rabbi Shulman encouraged us to check in with our life purpose—to ask ourselves– “what is truly important to me now?” I definitely feel like I am in a place of reset, of needing to find grounding. I am setting boundaries on commitments outside of my family, work and synagogue life. I am striving to create space to fill my soul, to be with people and do things which lift me. I’m pursuing joy and a less frenetic life.
I am pursuing joy, not in a gluttonous sense, but rather in the sense of identifying where I find joy. What are the moments that bring light and lightness? Where am I? Who am I with? What are we doing? And how can I manifest more of these moments in my life?
I’ve been reading books I hear about on NPR and through the KE community- Happier Hour by Cassie Holmes, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, Playing Big by Tara Mohr. I recommend all of them. But none of them will bring happiness. None of them contain the recipe for fulfillment and settling my restless heart.
What does this moment call for, from me?
As I explore the practice of living in the present— I am more and more mindful of how the present is fleeting. I can keep moving forward, pushing through each day with my blinders on—or I can find ways to make meaning in the moments. I can pause and take notice of rainbows, butterflies, leaves changing. I can embrace our children growing up. I can sit mindfully with our beautiful marriage, community and home.
Life is now.
Life is here.
I am here. Hineni.
Pamela Law · October 20, 2022 at 3:12 pm
I treasure every chance to read your writings and reflections, Melanie. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
Jessica Weber · October 20, 2022 at 3:13 pm
Yasher coach to you, Melanie, on your teaching and thank you for sharing. Wishing you strength and support on your journey.
Donna Meir · October 20, 2022 at 4:03 pm
So wise and so beautiful… as always. I’m in the very same place. Let’s find some of that JOY together?!?! I know we can… LOVE YOU!!!!
Aneesha Parrone · October 20, 2022 at 4:08 pm
Wholeness occurs in the space between words…It is fleeting awareness. Thank you. I have been enjoying the tenderhearted openness of you blogs for 6 or 7 years. Sometimes, repeats in life jump out at me, like the number 49. I have lived at #49 for 18 years now… Many moments of brokenness that extend into other moments of sometimes brokenness and sometimes calm of a breathing heart…Ah! the joy of seeing a smile, the brightness of a season that inspires~ There is depth of gratitude in each of your blogs that I read. There is a clarity, no matter the joy or deep sorrow. I am certain of nothing; yet, each time I read of an “awareness moment” that is genuine, I am uplifted.
Thank you ~ May your 49th year be a threshold for spacious luminosity and continued lovingkindness.
Jani Majewski · October 20, 2022 at 4:42 pm
Melanie, you never cease to amaze me with your thought provoking and inspirational words. You shine through with every syllable.
Barbara Ellman · October 20, 2022 at 5:02 pm
Brave vulnerable beautiful
Your words touch me deeply
May you feel held w all beings as we move through impermanence through our respective stories and delighting in moments that call to us
Sherri Ka · October 20, 2022 at 8:17 pm
Thank you for sharing the Melanie. Your writings are so inspirational.
Rachel · October 20, 2022 at 8:25 pm
I am so moved by what you have written here. I have such deep feelings whenever I think of you and your story. Reading your words here about impermanence was just what I needed to be reminded of. I have read so much Tich Nhat Hahn. I like what he says about immortality as much as what he says about impermanence. Our spirits live forever in our words, and deeds, when others think of us, and the changes we have made in the world through our actions. Here you and I are sharing a brilliant moment as I read what you have written. Even just in the short time we spent together, you have forever influenced my life. And you were always appreciating the moment. Love you.
Judith Brodie · October 21, 2022 at 7:38 am
Melanie, you are so generous in sharing what is in your heart and on your mind. I am deeply grateful.
Barbara Goldburg · October 21, 2022 at 10:42 am
Thank you, Melanie.
Gitit Kaufman · October 21, 2022 at 12:24 pm
So beautifully said. Thank you so much for being so honest and open. You are an inspiration to all of us! Your story and your writing are so touching. We would all can benefit from reading a book of yours. So sorry you and your family had to experience these terrible challenges.
Ami Baron · October 23, 2022 at 9:10 am
So beautifully said Melanie…thank you.
Fran Zamore · October 23, 2022 at 7:10 pm
Melanie, I’m moved beyond words by your sharing and your insights. Thank you 🙏
Anita Khanna · October 24, 2022 at 10:26 am
I’m glad this was mentioned in class. I hadn’t read until now. Thanks for the lesson and reminder. I look forward to continue to learn from you!
Melanie Gruenwald · October 24, 2022 at 10:33 am