Two Truths to Live By
The art of living is to know when to hold fast and when to let go. For life is a paradox, it enjoins us to cling to its many gifts even while it ordains their eventual relinquishment. The rabbis of old put it this way:“A man comes to this world with his fist clenched, but when he dies, his hand is open.”
Surely we ought to hold fast to life, for it is wondrous, and full of a beauty that breaks through every pore of God’s own earth. We know that this is so, but all too often we recognize this truth only in our backward glance when we remember what was and then suddenly realize that it is no more.
We remember a beauty that faded, a love that waned. But we remember with far greater pain that we did not see that beauty when it flowered, that we failed to respond with love when it was tendered.
This is not an easy lesson to learn, especially when we are young and think that the world is ours to command, that whatever we desire with the full force of our passionate being can, nay, will, be ours. But then life moves along to confront us with realities, and slowly but surely this second truth dawns upon us.
At every stage of life we sustain losses-and grow in the process. We begin our independent lives only when we emerge from the womb and lose its protective shelter. We enter a progression of schools; then we leave our mothers and fathers and our childhood homes. We get married and have children and then have to let them go. We confront the death of our parents and our spouses. We face the gradual or not so gradual waning of our own strength. And ultimately, as the parable of the open and closed hand suggests, we must confront the inevitability of our own demise, losing ourselves as it were, all that we were or dreamed to be.
Life is never just being. It is a becoming, a relentless flowing on. Out parents live on through us, and we will live on through our children. The institutions we build endure, and we will endure through them. The beauty we fashion cannot be dimmed by death. Our flesh may perish, our hands will wither, but that which they create in beauty and goodness and truth lives on for all time to come.
Don’t spend and waste your lives accumulating objects that will only turn to dust and ashes. Pursue not so much the material as the ideal, for ideals alone invest life with meaning and are of enduring worth.
Add love to a house and you have a home, add righteousness to a city and you have a community. Add truth to a pile of red brick and you have a school. Add religion to the humblest of edifices and you have a sanctuary.Add justice to the far-flung round of human endeavor and you have civilization. Put them all together, exalt them above their present imperfections, add to them the vision of humankind redeemed, forever free of need and strife and you have a future lighted with the radiant colors of hope.