A colleague of mine describes how in the novel, Gilead, an old man facing his imminent death, tells the story of his life in a letter to his young son. The narrator repeatedly interrupts his story when he notices something he finds amazing: the sound of his wife’s voice, the sight of his son chasing the cat, the beauty of the morning light. As he reflects on his life, he is full of gratitude, even for the dark and lonely times.
He says, “I hope you will understand that when I speak of the long night that preceded these days of my happiness, I do not remember grief and loneliness as much as I do peace and comfort – grief, but never without comfort; loneliness, but never without peace. The narrator takes after his grandfather, who would often say, “I am confident that I will find great blessing in it, no matter what happened to him in life.
The narrator of Gilead embodies an important Jewish principle, the counting of one’s blessings, Jewish tradition takes gratitude seriously.
A great sage said, “A person is obligated to say one hundred blessings a day.” That is why there are blessings to recite over everything: getting up in the morning and going to bed at night, eating, studying, seeing beautiful of splendid sights. Long before a gratitude journal was in fashion, we had a list of things to give thanks for to remind us to get into the habit of counting our blessings.
Having been rescued from cancer five times I find myself counting my blessings and giving thanks many times a day, even through the darkest times.
A rabbi explains it this way: “It feels easier and more natural to give thanks when everything is going well, when we have peace and security, health and bounty. But when we face fear of war and sickness and poverty, when our inclination is to cry and curse, it is much more difficult. When we are poor and starving, the famous mystic is aid to have been thankful for the will to survive.
We don’t have to be that saintly. But we still might appreciate the idea of blessing the bad as well as the good.
Reciting a blessing is a way of reminding ourselves that even in dark times Goodness still exists, and that we have the capacity to find it. @TheRunningRabbi (Click to Tweet!)
Reciting a blessing over the bad as well as the good is our way of accepting a simple, obvious, and terribly difficult truth: that every life, even our own, includes fortune and misfortune, good and evil, joy and suffering. In the words of the Hebrew prayer book: “We affirm that despite all the tragedy bound up with living, it is still good to be alive.”
“Blessed is the Power that makes for goodness and deliverance. for giving us life, and enabling us to reach this day.”
Rabbi Hirshel Jaffe, a cancer survivor, is a motivational/inspirational speaker on the theme NEVER GIVE UP! He authored “Why Me? Why Anyone?” which chronicles his rescue from leukemia and his spiritual triumph over despair. Known as “The Running Rabbi” for competing in the NY Marathon, he received the “Award of Courage” from President Ronald Reagan in a White House ceremony. Rabbi Jaffe was one of the clergy who visited the American hostages in Iran to offer them comfort and hope and was asked by the President to greet them at the White House upon their return. He received an honorary Doctorate from his seminary for “his work with the sick, and his noble influence upon all people. You can follow him on Facebook.
Image courtesy of Bruce Mars.