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10/17/2023 12:53:35 PM

Oct17

Some thoughts currently in my brain

Psychotherapist Robert Gerzon once compiled a list of human conditions, which he entitled “The Least Favorite Laws of Life.”  Here they are:

  • Life is suffering.
  • The disasters that actually befall us in life are often ones we never even considered.
  • Money, even lots of money, can only buy things that can be bought.
  • Sometimes our worst fears do come true.
  • Everything changes.
  • Just because we love someone, it does not mean that they will love us in return.
  • Some of our most cherished dreams may not come true, no matter how much we want them to.
  • The chances are very high that we never got all our important needs met in childhood.  Nevertheless, we are completely responsible for who we are today.
  • Sometimes there are no second chances.
  • Despite the human relationships we have, we remain separate individuals and face life (and death) alone.
  • Life is not always fair, at least in the short run of one lifetime.
  • Evil exists.
  • We will never be free of problems because every solution inevitably creates a new problem. 
  • God loves us, but that does not entitle us to special treatment because God loves everyone else just as much.
  • Life does not come with any guarantees.
  • Our bodies can malfunction and are subject to injury and illness.
  • Bad things happen to good people.
  • There are no magic potions, no panaceas.
  • Not everyone we meet will like us.
  • The more we genuinely love and care about another human being, the more anxiety we experience concerning their well being.
  • Every advantage is accompanied by a disadvantage.
  • Our defenses keep us from experiencing love and peace.
  • Without our defenses we would feel absolutely terrified.
  • Because we inevitably hurt and are hurt by one another, we need to forgive ourselves and each other endlessly.
  • We are really going to die.
  • Our time of death is unknown; it may occur today.
  • Our manner of death is unknown; it may be painful.
  • Because life involves anxiety, pain, and suffering, we desperately need each other’s love and acceptance.
  • [And finally, the]… Least Favorite Laws of Life apply to all of us.

 [Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, pp. 209-210]

This list, which is by no means exhaustive, should make us reconsider (or recognize for the very first time) the lack of guarantees in life.  For if any of these least favorite laws of life challenge any presumptions we have held about how life will treat us, then we have set ourselves up for resentment. 

If we expect that any of these laws do not apply to us, we will be like the sixty-something woman who told me that, after losing her ninety-year-old father, she did not believe in God anymore.  Although I understood her pain in losing her loved one, at the time her declaration of doubt made no sense to me.  How could anyone not believe in God after losing a parent who had reached the fullness of years?  Now I understand that her disappointment was more than grief in losing a parent.  An unspoken promise – that her father would always be there for her – had been broken.  And so she couldn’t believe in God anymore.  Or more precisely, she couldn’t believe in a God who had promised that her father would live forever.

My message to this grieving woman, and to all of us, is to suggest that such unspoken promises lead us up the wrong path of life.  To believe in such promises is to prepare us for toxic anger and resentment.  Surely, there must be another way.

Such a way would be to admit that life guarantees nothing. The Talmud teaches us this lesson in the story of a rabbi who attends the bris of the son of a friend.  At the celebration, the father of the boy invites all the guests to return many years later for his son’s wedding.  The rabbi then departs, despite the late hour, and begins walking home.  The angel of death meets him on the road, and the rabbi, unaware of his identity, notices that the angel looks upset. 

“Forgive me for asking,” he says, “but you look very troubled.  What is bothering you so much.”

The angel responds, “I am the angel of death, and I am so tired of people who take their blessings for granted.  The man who celebrated his son’s bris today invited everyone to attend the wedding, and yet his son will not live thirty days more.”

The story ends with the rabbi anxiously inquiring if the angel has “official business” with him and the angel responds by saying: “Don’t worry, rabbi, it’s not your time, but just the same, you shouldn’t go out on these roads late at night.” 

Beyond this piece of good advice, the angel reminds all of us that we simply cannot know what tomorrow will bring and so, therefore, must understand how precious is this very day. 

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784