There is a short story attached to an illustration that hangs in my office. In part it reads:
“…I think the universe has different plans for me…this is the thing we all come to and this is the thing we all fight and if we are lucky enough to lose, our lives become beautiful with mystery…I sat there silent because that is not something that can be said.”
This passage holds great meaning for me. I, too, have lived at that cross-road. We think we can control our lives, and dictate our future. In reality, we can only choose how we behave on the path that life ultimately paves for us.
Did I choose to become a Jewish educator, or did it choose me? At different times, my plans were to become a director on Broadway (yes that’s true!), a high school history teacher, a lawyer, or a rabbi. But my life unfolded in unpredictable ways. There were detours, and I took other turns. I have no regrets. For the most part, life has been a beautiful journey, made more precious by traveling with my life partner, Joan, our children, and now, our growing family with in-law children and a wonderful grandchild, with another, God-willing, on the way. I continually seek to absorb the profound and beautiful mysteries and blessings of my life, even in the time of COVID-19, and maybe even more so. I have to believe my existence has meaning and purpose, and the richness and purpose come from my family, friends and also significantly from the sacred community that I am blessed to serve – Schechter of Bergen County.
As parents we cannot help but to wonder, what does the universe have planned for all of our children that is not of our own design? Is this what cannot be said? Do we fear, and become exhausted by the notion that perhaps, the universe’s plans for our children are not our own? As parents, we have hopes and dreams for each of our children. We look into their eyes as newborns, and imagine unlimited possibilities. We often try to become their world, setting the path for them, thinking we can protect them. What if their universe ends up not being ours? Is this thought too hard to bear, let alone utter? Is this what cannot be said?
Joan and I raised four children; each one is different from the other. We could not have imagined what the world had in store for them when they were born. To this day we often wonder, do we allow ourselves to “lose” the fight for control so that we can fully enjoy the beautiful mystery of watching their lives unfold? I see this kind of losing as truly winning – for we have given our children the gift of their own lives, their own dreams, and their own possibilities. We set them into the world knowing they are loved and hopefully we have instilled in them the values and morals that keep them grounded and good. We set them free, having ingrained in them the lesson to be persons of high character and ethics, and grounded in our Jewish tradition and values. Now it is up to them to pursue their passions, to fully realize their talents and special skills.
We shouldn’t try to mastermind our children’s futures – we cannot do it anyway. We must have the courage to allow ourselves to “lose the fight” and enjoy the beautiful mystery of who our children will become. When we push our children and try to manipulate their universe, let us ask ourselves, what is this truly about? Are your children how you measure your self-worth? Is this another truth that cannot be said?
Parents need to be their children’s coaches and supporters as they explore their interests and learn who they are. Encourage learning, not grades. Praise effort by being specific about what is praised. For example, “You answered those assigned questions with details,” as opposed to “You’re perfect!” Accept them where they are now, not where you believe they should be. One engenders confidence, the other anxiety. One promotes the ability to take risks and fail in order to succeed, the other insecurity, compliance and resistance to take risks and think freely.
Most importantly, guide them to be mensches who make their own thoughtful decisions and who have compassion for others. I pray that we all “lose the fight” to control our children’s universe, step back, and thank God for each day – and celebrate the beauty of the mystery of each of our lives.
That, I know, must be said.