What makes us different from or better than God’s other creatures? A cheetah is faster, a butterfly more beautiful, and a lion mightier by far. Scientists tell us that dolphins can laugh, elephants can exhibit altruism, and malamutes can love. Animals procreate and they protect; they grow ill and they die. But we alone know that we will do so. We exist, with the sure knowledge that one day, we will not. And yet we build bridges, read books, half-listen at cocktail parties, decide between puce and magenta, and cultivate flowers. Years from now, will anyone care what I was named or what I believed or what I wore to the movies?
We consider death as something that happens — or did happen, or will happen — to somebody else. But life is finite. We lease our minds and bodies for an indefinite term but with the sure knowledge that we cannot buy it out. And so, in the daily acts we perform, seen and unseen (but mostly those unseen), we are all writing our own obituaries.
And yet still we walk and still we talk and stand and sit and take out the trash, and decide what is trash and what is not, what to keep and what to discard. And what does it matter anyway? Because there is something paradoxically and delightfully, magically, wonderfully unreasonable within us that builds and reads and listens and decides, and believes that it all matters, because somehow it really does.
Let us make the year ahead one of blessing, of reciprocal connection, of caring, and of healing.
Marshall Portnoy is the Cantor of Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. www.mlrt.org