Eleven Months, Part 3: Not at Some High Place Along the Way.

This has been moving through my mind for the last couple of weeks:

Birth is a beginning, And death a destination.
And life is a journey:

From childhood to maturity; And youth to age.
From innocence to awareness; And ignorance to knowing.
From foolishness to discretion; And then, perhaps, to wisdom.

From weakness to strength; Or strength to weakness
– And, often, back again.
From health to sickness, And back, we pray, to health again.

From offense to forgiveness, From loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude, From pain to compassion,
And grief to understanding – From fear to faith.

From defeat to defeat to defeat – Until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies
Not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage,
A sacred pilgrimage.

Birth is a beginning And death a destination.
And life is a journey, A sacred pilgrimage
– To life everlasting.

(Gates of Repentance, p 283)

It’s a poem from the Kol Nidrei service in Gates of Repentance: Reform Judaism’s machzorIt was written by a rabbi named Alvin Fine.

Growing up, my rabbi read it almost every week at Friday night services. My mother loved that rabbi.

“…Victory lies not at some high place along the way, but in having made the journey…”

I wish my mother had gone to services more so she could have heard this man, for whom she had so much love and respect, repeat those words. She didn’t and I think, up until the end as the paramedics worked to resuscitate her for the final thirty minutes of her life, she hoped for some victory. Some victory that never came, but to which she was so attached that she missed out on massive amounts of potential happiness, and mired herself in misery and anger.

I’m on the table at the acupuncturist when the intern’s supervisor comes in and tells me, in no uncertain terms, that living primarily in my head is not viable. “In the end,” he says “The body always wins, so listen to your body now before it’s too late. That body will win—it will die.”

We don’t get a lot of time here and our bodies remind us of that most days. But listening to those reminders can enrich our life. Thich Nhat Hanh, in the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, explains that “…Looking deeply at our own suffering can help us cultivate understanding and compassion…”

“Life everlasting,” I think, starts with compassion.