There is a debate in Talmud between Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Hiyya. Rabbi Hanina says to Rabbi Hiyya, “Do you dispute with me? Were the Torah, God forbid, to be forgotten in Israel, I would restore it by means of my dialectical arguments.” Rabbi Hiyya responds by saying that he would never let the Torah be forgotten in the first place, because he would live the mitzvot of Torah every day and would teach Torah to children who in turn would teach each other. Rabbi Hiyya is declared one of the greatest Talmudic rabbis.
This year has been very difficult for my family. My paternal uncle, Pano, and my maternal aunt died of cancer within two weeks of each other, and my grandmother moved into a nursing home.
On the drive over to the nursing home, where I was to explain to my immobile grandmother why she couldn’t fly out to California for her daughter’s funeral, a police officer pulled me over. He explained that my registration was expired, handed me a ticket with a pretty large price tag, and said that I was lucky because he decided not to call a tow truck to haul my car away like he should.
I thanked the police officer, he walked away, and I sobbed into my hands on the side of the road.
I am 25 years old, and I have decided that this is the year that I’d like to wave my magic wand so that time can stand still. I often wake up early in the morning and can’t go back to sleep. Thoughts of aging creep through my brain and engrain themselves into cells of my throat, stomach, and toes, so that I am very fully awake. It quickly becomes clear: I will not make it into Dreamland, a fortress of escape.
So far, though, it’s not my own age that bothers me. The thought of becoming older and eventually dying does not make me quiver. At 25, I would like to think that I am far removed from that reality. No, it is not my own death that terrifies me. It is the aging of my loved ones that makes sleeping so hard.
The notion that the beloved older adults in my life all someday will be gone is too hard to know. Every year that I get older, the opportunities to share laughter, conversations, hugs, and stories with them get smaller.
These are the people who taught me how to love the world through their own love for me. How to love to read through their love for reading – how to sew and cook special meals, and how to ride a bicycle. How to climb trees and throw softballs. Why it’s necessary to see pain as a part of humanity, and why integrity and honesty are essential to living a good life.
Time is funny. Reality is what you see and what you know, and after a period of time, reality shifts. Everything that I am and that I know today will be a memory in a year. In 20 years, I won’t remember most of my 25th year, but I will remember small important segments of it. When I am 95 years old, who will foster those memories other than me? It must be hard to live in a nursing home, a fortress full of memories.
I am sure that everyone has had these thoughts. They must be growing pains – a harsh awareness that each person must reach at a certain age. And accordingly, each person must find a way to pursue a meaningful life in the midst of this pain.
My aunt and uncle were connected by remarkable threads. They both were professors, explorers, and pursuers of answers to life’s questions. They sought after knowledge, taught what they learned to their students, and strove to learn from people who were unlike them.
At my aunt’s funeral, her daughter told us that her mother spoke of life’s big moments, including the hard ones, as “Life with a capital L.” These are moments that a person cannot shirk. These moments must be met with strength and integrity.
My uncle always pushed his loved ones to learn as much as they could, and he strove to find authenticity in every person he met. He often spoke of “living life with a full heart” – loving fully and finding goodness in each person that you meet.
My aunt and uncle lived appreciating the present moment and with the future in their horizons. They were young when they died, but their lives were rich in love, wisdom, and compassion. Those traits were passed on to the thousands of students that they taught, and became engrained in their families.
To live fully, I have learned, live like Rabbi Hiyya. Do your best to live a righteous life, to fight for justice, to see people with compassionate eyes. Most importantly, teach others to live life with a full heart so they can greet “Life with a Capital L” with integrity and hope.
I have learned that honoring the people whom I will miss most comes from living with gratitude for each day and from treating people well. I sleep better when my day looks like this.
Most importantly, I have learned that it is important to pursue a fulfilled life far into old age. I will strive to learn as much as I can, and to share these lessons with my students. They are the newest generation that needs to learn how to read, how to be honest, how to ride bicycles, and how to love.
How to live life with a full heart.