College tuition bills. Coping with aging parents. Aching backs. Children who no longer revere you – or even listen to you.“Middle age” is, without question, one of the most challenging – even trying – times of life. It’s no wonder that so many otherwise rational fifty-somethings suddenly begin to ride motorcycles, excessively exercise and get ill-advised hair transplants. Economic pressures weigh heavily on the sandwich-generation, and the realization that the majority of one’s life has already passed leads to frequent thoughts of mortality.Thankfully, the struggle with ‘middle age’ has always been something theoretical for me; a part of my blessedly distant future. But in the past month, a confluence of events have made me realize that middle age is quickly approaching: my doctor raised the possibility of cholesterol medication for the first time, a long look in the mirror convinced me that my hair is steadily turning gray, and I realized that if I were a major league baseball player, I would already be well into the ‘decline phase’ of my career, forced to settle for one year contracts or even an invitation to spring training.I’m not the first person in my thirties to be struck by the fear of advancing age. Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837), Russia’s greatest poet, wrote Elegia – a powerful poem about the onset of middle age – when he was just 31:The burnt-out gaiety of reckless yearsLies heavy on me like a bleary hangover.But, like wine, the sadness of the bygone daysIn my soul grows stronger the older it is.My path is bleak. Labor and sorrow is promised meBy the future’s churning sea.Is there any hope for my future middle age? “He would also say: Five years is the […]
This past December, at the 47th Annual Governor’s Carolighting event in Columbia, South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley issued a challenge to everyone in her state: “I want to challenge each and every family to do one random act of kindness. Whether it’s having a soldier for dinner because they don’t have a family nearby to go to, visiting a nursing home, or baking cookies for an elderly neighbor, each act of kindness can help affect our state for the better… If every family in South Carolina commits to doing this, we would have 5 million kind acts across our state. How special would that be?” (www.wspa.com/story/24125906/gov-haley-issues-challenge-for-random-acts-of-kindness)
When I read about Governor Haley’s Christmas Challenge, I was drawn to the power of her idea. The impact of acts of kindness are impossible to measure; the potential ripple effects of our actions are infinite. How often are we amazed to learn that an encouraging word or small gesture of thoughtfulness we made years ago had a significant, long term impact upon the life of a friend, student or acquaintance?
Through every individual act of kindness, and every individual Mitzvah fulfilled, we acquire eternal life; in that moment, we are connected to eternity itself. A rebellious Jew once mockingly said to Rav Yizchak Meir of Gur (author of the Chiddushei ha-Rim): “Explain this to me Rebbe. It is written in the Shema that if a person sins, the clouds will not give their rain, the earth will not give tis fruit, and he will quickly disappear from the earth. But I have been committing sins my entire life and I don’t perform any commandments – yet my land is fruitful, I am wealthy and honored, and I lack nothing!” […]