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August 15, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Are our lives within our control?

By Rabbi Leah M. Herz Director of Spiritual Care, Menorah Manor

It is a difficult time to write a column while war continues to rage between Israel and Gaza.

Our hearts break daily with the latest reports about who lobbed the latest rocket or missile, how many have been lost and how many have been injured, and who is to blame. Will we ever finally achieve peace?

Planes are shot out of the sky over Ukraine. Refugee children from Central and South America who have crossed our borders are deported back to an uncertain fate. The Ebola virus makes it to our doorstep here in the United States. The news changes at the speed of light and it is highly likely that by the time this goes to press, anything I have written today (July 31) is going to seem like very old news.

There is much that weighs heavily upon us, particularly at this time of year when we approach signposts both secular and religious at what lies ahead. We are inundated with advertising for “Back to School” and “Tax-Free Sales” as summer vacation wends its way into another school year. In just a few days we will commemorate Tisha B’Av, a Fast Day which recognizes so many of our Peoples’ deepest losses. And in just eight short weeks, we will once again hear the blast of the shofar as it calls us to introspection and action. Perhaps with all that is going on in our world right now, we feel more fragile than ever. The future seems so uncertain and we fear that much of what may happen is out of our control.

The question we might ask ourselves is how much of our lives are ever really within our control? Circumstances can change in the blink of an eye and we must make split second decisions as to how we react. The smallest, most seemingly innocuous occurrence could end up having drastic consequences. It is a comfort to know, that although we may not be able to fully control the events that take place in our lives, we can certainly control how we choose to react to those events.

One of my favorite movies is called Sliding Doors, a film which came out in 1998 starring Gwyneth Paltrow. It tells the story of a young British woman, Helen, working in the field of public relations. One day, she shows up for work and is completely blindsided when told that she is being let go. In a very emotional state, Helen packs up her office and walks to the Tube (subway), to go home. She approaches the train to get on and … this is where the film takes a very interesting twist. Suddenly we are presented with two very different scenarios. In the first, Helen barely makes it through the doors of the train, squeezing in just as they slide shut behind her. In the second, the doors of the train slide shut before she is able to get on. What we see are two very different stories, told in parallel, exploring what happens to Helen when she gets on the train and when she does not. Without going into any more detail, (I don’t want to spoil the movie) we get to see the choices she makes and how those choices lead to both positive and negative outcomes.

Most of us are able to identify the “sliding doors” in our own lives; we can all retell experiences that, had they gone in a slightly different way, would have resulted in completely different outcomes. I have had the opportunity to “share sliding door stories” with our residents at the Menorah Manor Communities. Some of them have been very moving, others funny, and some were expressed with pain and regret. “If I hadn’t been dragged to the dance that night by my friend, I would never have met my future husband.” “If I had waited in line to register at one university instead of going downtown to the new one just opening, I would never have met my wife to be.” “After the War, I was trying to get a job in civil engineering but there was nothing available. So I took a Civil Service exam instead and ended up with a long career working for the U.S. government which enabled me to travel to wonderful places with my family.” Admittedly, not all doors slide open or shut to our benefit.

As we live through these tumultuous times, our tendency may be to succumb to anxiety and fear. Let us always remember that although we may not have power over the “sliding doors,” we are still able to control the choices we make. May those choices always be for good.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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