Throughout my life, beginning as a young child, I have been involved in numerous social justice causes. I have tramped through snow delivering political pamphlets on behalf of candidates. I have walked miles and hopped on my bike to ride to raise money for causes. I have attended rallies, benefits and new conferences in support of various issues. I have dialogued and protested. I have written letters and made phone calls. I have baked cookies, cooked meals and donated money and given away car loads of clothing, furniture, books and toys. I have done it all wishing I could do even more to make the pain of the world and individual suffering cease. In the end of course I have always known, that the pain that I ease the most through all of my activism is my own. Giving always helps the giver more than the recipient. That is why are rabbis taught us we should give thanks for being allowed to help those in need. Giving to people in need helps me keep my perspective on my own problems, both perceived and real. I freely admit that I obsessively read tales of people struggling to get by some days simply to remind myself that however bad I feel about my own lot in life, it could always be worse. But mostly I read them because I am inspired and impressed by the courage and strength people show in adversity and I hope to learn how to always have the same inner core of faith and courage that they have.
I do however, most days, give to others because I am so grateful for what I do have. I am able to wake up each day with a roof over my head, able to put both feet on the ground and use all my limbs and have a mostly functioning brain. I have people I love and who love me in my life and I have seen and done so many incredible things in my life. I know how good my life has been and I am grateful for it. But of course while I am basically content with my lot in life, I am still ambitious enough to want to have more, to do more, and to give more. People who have become ill or disabled often express that as much as they are pained and hurt by their illness it is their need to receive care rather than give help that hurts more. I know this is true. I hate having to be needy. Perhaps my need to give is my insurance policy against needing. If I am the giver, than I will never have to be the recipient……I am certain Freud and others can go deeper…but let’s not.
In 2014 I will turn 55. It is a good age and considering the alternative to getting older…I will age delightedly! I am celebrating my 55th birthday by doing several things. I am going to compete in at least two mini triathlons. I am competing to get my body in shape to have the strength, endurance and grace to finish the events and to be able to get up the next day able to walk with comfort. I am working on organizing my life so that I can really find what I need when I need it and not be overwhelmed by mountains of paper covering my office, my home and my car (this will be more difficult than the triathlons). I will also be doing one more thing…probably even more shocking to some than anything else I have ever done…I am shaving my head.
When I turned 50, I let my hair go to its natural color, grey. I decided I had spent 15 years of my life as a slave to covering up my natural color and had enough. At 50 I decided I wasn’t fooling anyone about my age in any case and I might as well embrace who I really was. The past five years have been both liberating and enlightening. But now, as I turn 55 it seems that hair is again going to be a focal point of my continued aging. I am going totally bald, at least for a while. On March 31, 2014, I will join with 35 other rabbis in a program called “Shave for the Brave”. 36 rabbis are gathering to support our colleague whose son has leukemia and sadly is no longer responding to treatment. I have not met either my colleague or her son, but I have obsessively followed her story as she journeyed with her son through the world of cancer. You can read her blog at supermansamuel.blogspot.com. The “Shave for the Brave” will raise money for the St BALDrick’s foundation, a volunteer organization that supports pediatric cancer research. My sacrifice of my hair is nothing by comparison to what the children and families infected with cancer and other chronic illness deal with on a day to day basis. You can read more about my participation here. http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/660958/2014.
In the morning prayer service we thank God for giving us the breath of life and for giving us bodies that have veins and arteries the keep us alive. I thank God for my body, for my brain and for the ability to be a giver and a doer.
Baruch atah Adonai Rofeh Kol basar u’mafli laasot. Blessed are you, God, who heals all flesh, working wondrously.