Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Life Not Fully a Great Life

What? Isn't a fulfilling life one with goals that are completed and aspirations that are met? Whether or not such a life would be fulfilling, it is not a human life. Part of human existence is knowing that we will always have goals we cannot meet, but nonetheless aspiring to be better all the time. The life of Moses, which ends in the Book of Deuteronomy, is an example of a fulfilling life that is amazing and human precisely because Moses does not achieve everything he has set out to do. Franz Kafka and Martin Luther King, one Jewish writer and a Christian minister, both use the example of Moses on the mountain to illustrate their own life experiences:

Kafka wrote this:

The essence of wandering in the wilderness. A person, who as leader of his people goes this way, with a remnant (more is unthinkable) of consciousness about what is happening. He is on the trail of Canaan for his entire life; that he should see the land only just before his death is incredible. This last prospect could only have the purpose of demonstrating how incomplete a moment human life is, incomplete because this kind of life could go on endlessly and yet would result in nothing other than a moment. Not because his life was too short does Moses not reach Canaan, but because it was a human life.

And King delivered these words before his death:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now—because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live . . . but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and God’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Both of these men understood the limits of a human life, but acknowledge and cherish those boundaries. They are what make us human and turn moments into miracles. They are also what bring us to work in concert with others to fulfill goals greater than ourselves -- goals that make our lives meaningful and worth living.

As we approach Yom Kippur, let us remember our limits. On one hand we should apologize for what we have done wrong, for missing the mark, and for promising that which we could not deliver. On the other hand, let this time of contemplation be an opportunity to work with others and appreciate the limited, miraculous time we have together.

Gmar Hatimah Tovah (May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.)