The gift of the present

We spend most of our time thinking about the future and the past, planning and remembering. Comparatively few moments are spent in the present. But there are actually a couple of things that do help us reside in the here-and-now: nature walks and feeling intense emotions. Sukkot, the week-long Festival that begins tonight, immerses us in both nature and joy.

Sukkot is the only Festival that is defined by an emotion. Others are defined by a condition like freedom (Passover) or by a gift like Torah (Shavuot). Clearly, emotions that are the opposite of joy, like sadness and anger, feel more available these days. Yet perhaps we can measure emotions less by whether they’re positive or negative, and more by whether they bring us together or move us apart. Clearly anger estranges. Yet sadness can ingather. Rage can leave us at each other’s throats. Suffering can find us opening each other’s hearts.

Interestingly, Sukkot combines our immersion in the present with looking up. The huts rooftop beckons. “Lift up your eyes. Gaze through the protective shade and connect yourself to a longer horizon. Uplands ahead will invite you forward.”

That superhuman capacity to move forward from devastating tragedy has now been gifted to listeners, thanks to Simon Sinek’s sister Sara’s emotionally-generous decision to publicly share how she managed to survive the tragic death of her fiancé as they road a subway to pick up their marriage license back in 2000. It’s been 20 years. And with so much loss all around us today, Sara movingly recalls how critical meeting a woman named Julie, who had suffered and survived a similar tragedy 7 years earlier, was for her at the time. Sara touchingly demonstrates that you can choose to make your survival into a life-preserver for someone else.

Emotionally trying times await us all. Sukkot urges us to pay attention to the present, to life’s here-ness. Ingather emotively with honesty. When possible, joyously.

And remember that you may yet make today’s pain a source of help to another, once it has sufficiently becomes yesterday’s.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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