What Characterizes a Life Well-Lived?

       G’mar Hatima Tova, may each of us have a signature in the Book of Life with a blessed new year. It’s so wonderful to see families together today, on the holiest day of the year. Part of what makes the holidays so special and so meaningful is your presence here. Please know you always have a place here at the Jericho Jewish Center.

You may have noticed that we have new Yizkor Books, donated by Barbara and Dennis Smiler in memory of Dennis’ parents. We are using them for every Yizkor. Each one has on it a sticker saying “Property of the Jericho Jewish Center.” Please keep them in the Jericho Jewish Center. The Book of Life, on the other hand, is yours to take.

Please bring in food to the Manhattan Drive entrance for Project Replenish for the Mid Island Y Food Bank, as well as shampoo, conditioner, soap and cleaning supplies for the STEM Preschool Project Replenish, also going to the Mid Island Y Food Bank.

Please see the two sheets printed on resume paper about Mitzvah 613, donation opportunities for our new Torah, and our Torah Kickoff next month. Please also go to your bank to get $20 worth of rolled pennies and bring them to the office so the Religious School can get closer to reaching 304,805 pennies.


One last time
Relax, have a drink with me
One last time
Let’s take a break tonight
And then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye
To say goodbye
You and I[1]

How do you want people to look back on how you lived your life? What to you would constitute a life well-lived? What are the attributes of someone who you admire at the end of their life?

Whatever your political views, we all have something to admire in what Charles Krauthammer on June 8. “I have been uncharacteristically silent these past ten months. I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I’m afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me.

       In August of last year, I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in my abdomen. That operation was thought to have been a success, but it caused a cascade of secondary complications — which I have been fighting in hospital ever since. It was a long and hard fight with many setbacks, but I was steadily, if slowly, overcoming each obstacle along the way and gradually making my way back to health.

         However, recent tests have revealed that the cancer has returned. There was no sign of it as recently as a month ago, which means it is aggressive and spreading rapidly. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.

        I wish to thank my doctors and caregivers, whose efforts have been magnificent. My dear friends, who have given me a lifetime of memories and whose support has sustained me through these difficult months. And all of my partners at The Washington Post, Fox News, and Crown Publishing.

        Lastly, I thank my colleagues, my readers, and my viewers, who have made my career possible and given consequence to my life’s work. I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.

         I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”[2]

If that’s not teaching how to say goodbye, I don’t know what is. If only we could all feel this way, ending life without regrets and only seeing the beauty in the gift of life that we’ve been given. A more recent example was in my former Senator John McCain’s final words to us, read by his former presidential campaign manager Rick Davis at the Arizona State Capitol:

My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for sixty years, and especially my fellow Arizonans,

         Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.

         I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else’s.

         I owe that satisfaction to the love of my family. No man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America. To be connected to America’s causes – liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people – brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.

       ‘Fellow Americans’ – that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process.

         We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

        We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.

       Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with the heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening.

        I feel it powerfully still.

       Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”[3]

Two farewell statements written by two powerful men whose thought processes could have very easily gone different directions. Krauthammer had a diving board accident in his first year of medical school, fracturing his cervical spine and leaving him a quadriplegic and paralyzed from the waist down. This could have left him embittered at life, feeling “why me?” never recovering from such a brutal injury. McCain’s plane was taken down, and he was tortured for five-and-a-half years in Vietnam. He could not lift his arms above his shoulders to dress himself after the gruesome torture he endured. He could have easily exclaimed, “Enough of this!” and lived his life in bitterness because of his lot.

Despite this, both of these men made the most of the life they had been given. Krauthammer graduated near the top of his class at Harvard Medical School with residency at Mass General, went into Psychiatry and then Journalism. While not religious in his later years, he knew Yiddish and Hebrew and one of his philanthropic contributions was to start a fund for Jewish Music. When McCain was released from captivity-waiting until those who had been captured before him were released-he entered politics, becoming a Congressman and then a five-term US Senator for the State of Arizona. Both men died from cancer: Krauthammer from liver, McCain from brain, yet there is no bitterness or scorn in either’s remarks.

While both men were Republicans, they were beloved by people who both agreed and disagreed with them. They went across the aisle to befriend people who disagreed with them. Krauthammer received accolades from both liberal and conservative commentators. Russ Feingold and Barak Obama spoke at McCain’s funeral. McCain and Krauthammer’s personalities, having respect for those with whom they strongly disagreed, as well as the fact that neither was an ideologue led to them receiving respect from both sides of the aisle.

One might say, ‘Yes but this is easier said than done.’ After all, Krauthammer and McCain were famous public figures. However, I would argue that each of us can maintain the example of a life well lived and I’m going to turn to an atypical third example: Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the first child of Steve Jobs. Steve had an on-off relationship with Lisa’s mother Chrisann Brennan for five years yet when Chrisann became pregnant, he wanted nothing to do with her. Chrisann moved to a farm where she gave birth to Lisa, and Steve only came up to visit three days later at the farm owner’s behest. Steve did not acknowledge Lisa as his daughter, claiming that he was unable to father children. Even after a paternity test verified that Lisa was his daughter, Steve continued to deny it until a court case required him to pay $385 per month in child support. When Apple went public and Steve became a multimillionaire, the payment went up to $500 per month. Allegedly, Steve did not want a relationship with his daughter and was described by her in her memoir Small Fry as being “far away, glinting like a shard of mirror.”[4] Chrisann asserts that “when he failed at work, when he lost something in the public sphere, he remembered us, started dropping by, wanted a relationship.”[5]  Lisa writes, “Growing up I’d been very poor, very rich, and sometimes in the middle.”[6] It honestly depended on her father’s mood and streak of vengeance at that period of time. At age 19, when Lisa had a summertime feud with her father, he refused to pay for her college tuition at Harvard-it needed to be paid by a married couple down the street.

With all of this baggage, Lisa Brennan-Jobs could have held a grudge against her father (Steve Jobs) long after his passing.  She chooses however not to do so. Linda Nielsen, a journalist for The New York Times, uses it as the backdrop for an article about father-daughter relationships. She writes, “Adults who love their children and whose children love them can be lousy parents. To be clear, ‘lousy’ parenting does not mean being physically or sexually abusive, or having serious mental health or substance abuse problems that endanger the children. It means that a father who loves his daughter can be self-absorbed, insensitive, hot-tempered, and inept in communicating with her. Parenting is a learned skill that some parents never master. This is not to excuse poor parenting. It is simply a reminder that, as they both age, a father and daughter can acknowledge their love for one another without ignoring or denying his failures as a parent.

        Research also teaches us that we cannot always know the motives or intentions behind another person’s behavior. We know when someone’s behavior or comments hurt, belittle or embarrass us. But we don’t necessarily know if that was the person’s intent…”[7]

       Nielsen concludes as follows: “Forgiving her father is a gift a daughter gives, not just to her father, but to herself. In choosing not to allow her bitterness about his failings as a father to consume her, a daughter is choosing not to deprive herself of whatever pleasure she can still derive from their relationship. She does not deny the past. But she does not dwell in it. Forgiving does not mean forgetting.

       Ms. Brennan-Jobs’s memoir may provide a comforting message for parents who fear that their mistakes and missteps inevitably will lead to irreparable damage — and for daughters who are grappling with their father’s failures as a parent. Adult children can choose to focus on the dearness or the darkness of their childhood relationships with their parents. Ms. Brennan-Jobs chose dearness. Will we?”[8]

This deep psychology can be applied to any relationship, not just father and daughter-although that is one I am particularly interested in having one daughter and G-d willing soon to be having another. We don’t always get to choose the hand we’re dealt, or how others treat or have treated us, but we DO get to choose how we respond to it. To have a life well-lived, we must try to acknowledge the baggage of our past, for at times each of us has been a “victim,” yet at the same time to be able to move past it, not because we have to but because we WANT to. Like McCain, Krauthammer and Brennan-Jobs, each of us must recognize what the message is we want to convey-hopefully a positive one-and work hard to convey it.

As the song continues: “Why do you have to say goodbye? If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I’m gone.”[9]

As we prepare to say Yizkor, let us think of the loved ones who are no longer physically present in our lives, of the example they set for us and of the people they have helped us become. May we also be aware that whatever hand life deals us in 5779 that we try to take it with grace, serenity and inner peace rather than with bitterness, anger, anxiety or fear. In so doing, may we inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life for the coming year, living with no regrets and with confidence, inner strength and well-being.

We continue with our Yizkor Service in our new Yizkor Booklets. You do not need to leave for Yizkor unless it is your custom to leave if your parents are still alive.

[1] George Washington, “One Last Time” in Hamilton, Book and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

[2] Charles Krautthamer The Washington Post Opinion June 8, 2018.

[3] John McCain Farewell Statement, printed in The Associated Press, August 27, 2018.

[4] https://www.newsday.com/entertainment/books/lisa-brennan-jobs-small-fry-review-1.20740633

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Linda Nielsen, “Fatherhood Through the Lens of Steve Jobs,” New York Times, August 28, 2018.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, “One Last Time” in Hamilton, Book and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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