February 22, 2020

As We Grow Older, Randomness Increases

This is a difficult time.

Again we seem to be challenged by events that we didn’t plan for or expect.

We have been dealt cards that change the way we see things.

Let me be honest: Some of this is very personal. It is also cumulative. I am not thinking only of the shooting in Parkland, Fla., and the horror of what families must face.

I also am thinking personally, because just a few days ago, I had to help bury another close friend.

In many of the talks and sessions associated with Jewish Sacred Aging, an online forum for the Jewish community, we look at what we call the “R” factor of life. This refers to the randomness of our lives.

We may be able to control many things in life, yet there is always that randomness factor that we don’t expect.

The impact of this, I am convinced, becomes more powerful as we get older. I think that is because we are more aware of time and the limitations that this reality places on us.

We may be able to control many things in life, yet there is always that randomness factor that we don’t expect, such as an unexpected phone call that brings news that changes things, or a random act that we never prepare for that changes lives.

How we react to these random events does determine the type pf person we become. Of that I am convinced.

Yet, there is no paradigm. Each of us is unique. Each of us reacts to these random events in our own way, based on our history. Some people may retreat into a shell, cut themselves off from life. Some may use the event to spark activism or chart a new life course.

The unknown and eternal question is, of course, “Why”?

This is the religious question.

Science and the news can explain how an event took place. The religious mind asks why.

After we know how, we immediately seek to know why. That is the hardest thing to do. Indeed, for many, until we know why, there may be little closure or comfort.

We are overwhelmed by clichés that seek to find why an event took place.

They are nice. In some measure, they bring comfort. I understand, or at least am trying to understand, that in the end, each of us must find our own answer to why.

I do know — and this is frightening — that as we get older, the randomness factor of life becomes more present; the reality that we cannot control it becomes more of a concern.

Our tradition, knowing all of this, still opts for life.

It always remains true to the overriding value of celebrating the life you have been given — and celebrating each day.

We are reminded of that by saying the “Modeh ani lifanecha” (I give thanks to you) prayer as soon as we wake up.

In the end, maybe that is all we can do, to give thanks that we have another day of life, to not let that gift be for nothing, and to remember in life and in deed those who are no longer physically here.

I know all of this, but yet …

Founder and director of jewishsacredaging.com, Rabbi Richard F. Address served for more than three decades on the staff of the Union for Reform Judaism. He began his career in Los Angeles in 1972.