I have been married 36 years. A long time ago a friend of mine gave me a piece of advice about marriage. He was about ten years older than me and I considered him a sort of mentor. He had been married several years and was the father of six at the time. I was going through the initial rocky, should I say ‘adaptations’, to married life and I considered my friend's marriage ideal. One day as he was advising me, I told him, “You don’t understand, your have an perfect marriage!”, to which he replied, “We worked at it!”
That statement took me out of the ‘Hollywood’ idea of marriage which proclaims that ‘love’ (the emotional mushy version) is all that’s needed to make a marriage work. The problem is that that kind of love is an emotion. By nature, emotions are fickle and like the sea, can be affected by anything that moves the current such as a look, a sight, a sound, a word, an impression, the weather, or like Ebenezer Scrooge says, by an upset stomach due to something we ate.
In my view, love is a conscious choice that we make daily. How do we work at a marriage? By making sure that this ‘love’ overcomes each and every health, financial, and logistical condition which life seems to throw at us. If it’s real love, it can overcome and it will! In this concept, the “Hollywood’ definition of love is out of the race.
It is recorded that a certain man named John used to teach his followers that ‘God is love!’. Which God was he talking about? He was talking about the God of the Jews, the One that came to them at Mt Sinai. Moses records that this God remembers our bad deeds for three or four generations but that he remembers our good deeds for thousands of generations to come (Ex 34:6-7). In essence, The bad deeds He remembers during the time of our possible influence on our descendants, and the good deeds, the times we act sacrificially and unselfishly; the times we think more of the other than of ourselves; the times we go under in order to preserve peace; those He remembers for thousands of generations. I think that is a perfect lesson to apply to marriages and relationships: REMEMBER THE GOOD FOR A LONG LONG TIME, BUT REMEMBER THE BAD ONLY FOR A LITTLE WHILE .What about the ugly?:
It was St.Patrick’s Day this week. My first name is Patrick but I am not Irish; I am French among other things. Jewish European families often give their children a first name from their country of residence, as well as a Jewish name. My Jewish name is Gabriel. All that said, I am neither Irish nor an angel.
I thought of an Irish blessing this week, “May God give you want you want!”. It reminded of the story of a certain lady. At the age of three, her daughter caught meningitis. She was going to die. The mother got so upset at God. She couldn’t wrap herself around the idea that God would let her precious daughter die. She felt that it was most unfair for God to let that happen. She prayed to the Divine Authority over all things. She at the same time begged for mercy and angrily pleaded her case. She pulled from her knowledge of Scriptures and reminded God of the times when He changed his mind, and lo and behold, she prevailed. Her daughter did not die.
Many years passed and the daughter grew to a spunky teenager. She got involved with bad company which introduced her to drugs and prostitution. She made bad choices which led her down the wrong path. She was later found dead in the streets. At that time, the mother prayed again but this time with tears of regrets saying, “Oh; that she had died when she was three!”.
At the expense of sounding fatalistic (which I am not), I feel that there is a great lesson to learn from this. It is the same lesson we repeatedly remind one of our students of at school. His sense of anxiety provokes him to always tried to remain in control of what’s happening around him, so we constantly remind him, “Go with the flow; go with the flow!”
In life, it is sometimes better to accept what the Divine Authority has decreed. When we don’t, we may pray over ourselves the old Irish blessing: ‘May God give you want you want!’
Here is what has been known as:
The Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier.
I asked God for strength that I might achieve. I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.I asked for health that I might do greater things. I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy. I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
Chaplain calls seem to happen on Shabbat these days. Maybe it is because Hashem knows I am available on that day as opposed to during the week when I teach everyday from morning to night (and even after...).
It was nice this time to be with a fellow chaplain from station #69.
From what I've seen so far, it seems that daughters are usually more able to cope with the whole ordeal that sons. This case was different. The won was taking care of everything while the daughter could not even face coming to the scene from the nearby town.
Fromm call to call, I have never seen two situations alike. People seem to have very varied reactions to the death of loved ones and we can never be sure that we are read them accurately. We like to protect ourselves. Most of us are very good in cloaking our true emotions. We either hide behind a veil of collected coolness, or even cloak our true feelings behind exaggerated emotional outbursts. It is comforting to know that God sees everyone's one's heart. though.
I remember answering a call with another fellow chaplain. It was an older lady whose long-time aged caretaker died of a heart-attack in front of her. She was so brave in our presence. But when her intimate friends came in to visit, she burst out in uncontrollable sobs, which was exactly what she needed to do.
I went on a call last Friday night.
I had successfully organized my Friday afternoon to a manageable level. In fact, i was able to put some of my study books back where they belonged, organized my desk, went to Timber Town for exercise, did some errands in Estacada town center, and enjoyed a nice bath. My youngest son and his girlfriend had just arrived home and we were getting ready to sit for Kiddush and Shabbat dinner when the Active 9-1-1
familiar tone went off.
My wife told me dinner won't be ready for an hour so I immediately changed and got in my E.R.F.D. #69 outfit. Arrived on the scene of an uncontrollably sobbing woman as she expected her diabetic husband not to make it. He did not. I stayed to comfort her and her family until such a time as the M.E. and the Sheriff had done their job and the Funeral Chapel came to take care of the body, then I went home.
It was different Friday night.
As of Friday night, at the onset of the Shabbat, as Jews we are not supposed to work. But I have also learned from my religious teachers that caring for the departed is one of the highest form of service to God. The reason is that the dead can't thank you for caring for them and their family, we don't get anything in return for it, not even a smile or the look of a comforted face. This idea comes from the fact that it is said in the Bible that God Himself is the One who came to care for Moses' body (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). The logic is that if God does it, so should we. It is therefore considered a total random act of kindness. A person who dedicated her life to that was Mother Theresa. Our Master Yeshua also taught us along the same lines. He taught us that it is right to bring comfort to people on the Shabbat.
Indeed, it was a special Shabbat!
Between working, raising a family, volunteering, and trying to spend some time relaxing, many of us may feel like we have full lives. We may feel like our life is consumed with all these activities, and it actually is. I heard a proverb once, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person. Only a busy person recognises the importance of doing things right now!’
As we quickly approach the season of Passover, I am reminded of such a person; a person who was not afraid to be consumed by a life of responsibilities, some self-imposed, some imposed by Divine Mandate. I remember this lonely shepherd tending to his father-law’s sheep in the desert. In the distance, he sees a flame on the mountainside. It was a strange flame as whereas it burned vivaciously, it did not consume its bushy host. The curious shepherd approaches it.
A discussion ensues between the ‘flame’ and the bewildered shepherds. What could it want from him? Why did this fiery host attract his attention? Soon, our faithful sheep watcher and guide would get the assignment of a lifetime. While the fiery host did not consume the bush, it would consume the shepherd till its dying day.
How true it is that a faithful man, a man of integrity will often find himself consumed by the objects of his devotion, whether it be working to keep a roof over his family, raising children, volunteering, or all of the above.
On the other hand, some of us may feel at times as if we were in a lonely desert taking care of other people’s goods, but at any given moment, our path may take us to encounter the flame of duty. While its call may seem all-consuming, may we remember that the value of a life is not in how much is gathered but in how much is given, and that the eyes of the Eternal Judge do not even look at what we give, but rather at what we have left once we are done giving.
I spent several years in S.E. Asia. One of the countries I lived in was India where my wife and I were teachers for an anglophone home-school network. We worked with children from literally all around the world. Raising a deaf son, the oldest of our our six children, we also worked as English teachers and counsellors among the Indian deaf community. Our network consisted of many people in several different cities, The worked we did was culturally sensitive and required many different skills so our teacher’s network adopted an adaptation of the ‘Teamwork’ leadership system that some of our friends had observed in Japan.
This system consisted of a leadership team of several people, each one representing a different part of the work at hand. In our case one was childcare/education, another represented the financial aspect, while another was the personal/health representative. This provided a well-balanced system where, for the most part, all aspects of a situation were reviewed before decisions were made. I remember one such a ‘teamwork’ sharing their experience working together.
As the teamwork members got together to make necessary decisions for the network, they noticed that they always ran against the same dynamics. There was always one teamwork member who seemed to push on the gas pedal while the other applied the brakes. Wisdom then deferred to the third member who became the clutch helping the two others to bring the vehicle of their decision-making forward in synchronized harmony. As they kept working together, they realized that therein was the advantage of their working relationship.
Yes, in any governing body, their needs to be someone with their foot on the gas so the ‘vehicle’ actually goes somewhere, but someone also with their foot on the brakes to keep it from crashing into dangerous situations. And as those who drive a stick-shift know, unless they work in concert with the clutch, the vehicle will stall.
Working together with people of different temperaments and personality is actually a big part of wisdom. As I heard it said, ‘Both optimists and pessimists contribute to this world. The optimist invents the airplane, and the pessimist invents the parachute!’
It was a Monday night. Both my wife and I had a long working day behind us. We had spent our morning teaching, gone to the recording studio in the afternoon, then returned to school to teach more classes. As evening came.we did not have the courage to prepare dinner so my wife went to Taco Bell and I raided the fridge for leftover chicken wings from the night before. At about 8:30 having had dinner, sitting in my lazyboy in my pyjamas, … the eery Active 9-1-1 alarm broke out of my phone. ‘RESIDENTIAL FIRE’ ‘CH110’!
I got up, Half of those calls get recalled anyways I thought. I remembered the time when the residential fire alarm sounded off on a beautiful lazy Saturday afternoon asking for CH 110. The ‘residence’ was actually a chicken house. That day I went home early as I happen to know that chicken have their own chaplain, Reverend Coop-er!
But it wasn’t recalled, and I headed out the door. Following the directions given me by Google Maps, I came towards a place with billowing smoke. I parked near the Fire Corps rehab vehicle and made my way to the scene.
A couple, whom I shall refer to as R and D, were sitting in their small truck watching the motorhome they called home go up in flames. They were now homeless. The man, R. told me what happened and when I turned to D, the woman, I saw a person whose life was written all over her hardened cynical face.
While R. went off to smoke a cigarette I tried to start conversation with D. Sometimes the mention of ‘Chaplain’ on my E.R.F.D. sweatshirt brings people into confidence, but sometimes it works the other way as some people may close up to anything remotely sounding religious. I just stayed there. Didn’t push. Watched the firefighters at work. Made simple observations. I saw D. worried about their immediate situation so I confirmed with them that the Red Cross was on its way to help them.
After about half an hour D. started of her own accord to talk with me. She told me about her recovery from alcoholism and about her children, some of whom were in a foster home and that she was hoping to see them again. She also told me about her broken relationship with her mother. Soon some neighborhood teenagers came along to help. They brought clothing to the victims who had lost everything. D. said that she was cold and that she hadn’t eaten in two days, so I went to rustle up some snacks from the Fire Corps rehab vehicle. I remembered that the department was given some blankets destined to fire victims so I also got some of those from Fire Corp. D. was very thankful for the blanket but wouldn’t touch the snacks. She was upset and traumatised. I asked her then if she would go for a cup of hot chocolate. She didn’t need to say anything. Her eyes widened with acquiescence. The teens who had come by offered to help with that, which which they gladly did.
The Red Cross arrived. They took R. and D, over in order to settle them somewhere and care for their immediate needs. It was late; I was cold; and I needed to get up early the next morning so I felt I now could go home. Before leaving I asked D. if she would mind if I said a prayer for her. She categorically said, “No!” Wanting to make sure I understood, I asked again the same question, to which she responded with bated expectancy, “No, I wouldn’t mind!” I put my hand on hers and started to pray I mainly prayed for God to honor her efforts of rehabilitation which would allow her to see her children again, and also that He would care for their immediate needs. It is when I opened my eyes that the reward for the whole evening came in. The hardened cynical face had disappeared in exchange of, oh, if even for just a minute, a face displaying a beautiful peaceful smile that comes from knowing we are cared for.
Our teenage class learned to sing John McCrae’s ‘In Flander’s Fields’ this week. The rondeau ends with the following lines,
‘Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die.
We shall not sleep though poppies grow
in Flanders fields.’
If the dead could speak, what would they tell us? If those who passed away and who can now see life from a more knowledgeable perspective, what would they tell us? What would they tell us and what would they tell our families about the lives we lead? What would they tell our politicians in these changing times? What is the quarrel they would want us to take up, and with what foe? What torch would they want us to hold high so they could rest in peace, knowing we have not broken faith with them?
The author, John McCrae, wrote this poem a few days after his friend and former student, Alexis Helmer was killed by a German shell. It seems that though in shock due to the death of his friend, John McCrae gleaned strength and courage to continue the fight destiny had assigned him. In this same way, like the red poppies blowing between the crosses, those who went ahead leave for us strength, strength in the form of a message like the poppies, a mission that we need to hold on to.
Next time we see a poppy, let’s ponder and let’s remember what it is that those who passed before us may be trying to tell us. May we learn from their wisdom, as well as from their mistakes. May we hold up the torch they pass on to us to light our way and and that of our children into a brighter future. Scott Pelley recently ended one of his CBS Evening News broadcast with the quote from Soren Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward!’
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