As I wrote in my last post, I was among many people who felt an urge to wish 2016 away. It was a year of personal and emotional hardship for me in many ways. It started with two friends who died in their 50s… at this point I have a mental list of people with cancer, personal illness, and a litany of bad news in 2016, culminating with you know who and you know what. That is yesterday’s bad news. Today I realize that 2016 Was a Year of Wonder
I am practicing Gratitude, which sports the mantra “Give thanks for the good and the bad.”
One of the things I am most Grateful for is Hanukkah – it brought light at a time of darkness. One of you wrote the following in response to last weeks post, and it give me hope. You wrote, If 2016 has thought me anything, it’s that life has its own story and how that story is told is determined by those who live in it who can set the darkest of nights against the backdrop of a new dawn and day! Better times will come.
Another one of you wrote a moving tribute to your father who passed away. I love the way you said My father was known for his kindness…and while I am good at being kind to strangers, it is those I am closest to that I wish to work on being more of that with. I can so relate to that – I too want to be better with those closest to me. And my fathers illness brought us closer this year.
In addition to the litany of bad news, 2016 was a year of absolute wonder for me. Just before writing you, I did the 15 Minute Gratitude Challenge, and identified some amazing milestones last year: One daughter became Bat Mitzvah, and another was confirmed. One daughter discovered a love of volleyball, and the other got her drivers license. My wife had a meaningful milestone, and she and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary. My cats turned seven, and I turned 50. And my dream of having a Mussar book was realized. The outpouring of love an support related to the book has truly been remarkable.
But none of that compares to the miracle of the Cubs winning the world series. I mean seriously, who can’t feel good about that? No, Cleveland fans, of course I did not forget you. I’m sure you are really bummed, but I also suspect at least some of you feel hope that if the Cubs can win, then the Indians day will come too. And the Cavs won it all, beating my Warriors. You see, for every winner in sports, someone has to lose. For every loss in an election, someone wins.
In Mussar, there are no winners or losers. Why? Because Mussar is a spiritual exercise. It looks at the world differently, with a sense of wonder and gratitude. It does not mean that there are not issues to deal with. There are, but with a spiritual outlook the context and coloring is improved. Our task is to improve ourselves, which adds light to the world, and makes everyone else better too.
But I really got energized and jazzed reading this list of amazing things that happened in 2016. Please skip the beginning of the article that rehashes the sorrow of 2016. A few things on the list with particular meaning for me:
- 200 people attending the funeral of a homeless vet with no family. This is just awesome, and reminds me of the Jewish practice of everyone standing and reciting Kadish (the mourning prayer) in services together. Even if we do not have someone specific we are saying Kadish for, we say it for those who may not have someone to say it for them, or for people who died in the Holocaust and may not have family left today.
- New chemotherapy treatments, robotic limbs directly connected to the brain, and a decrease in child mortality worldwide. As Rabbi Yitz Greenberg reminded me earlier this year, Jews are on team life. How can I not rejoice at this news?
- Portugal and Costa Rica ran their entire countries on renewable energy for a few days, India planted 50 million trees in 24 hours, and California has 6 million solar roofs. And, Pandas and many other animals came off the endangered species lists. This is significant progress in our task to repair the world.
This list, and the Twitter hashtag #GoodThingsin2016 that reminds me of advice from Fred Rogers, who reminded us that in every disaster, there are always helpers. And Mussar teaches us that we have a choice whether or not to be a helper.
I’ll admit it – I am feeling super energized by writing you this letter. I am reminded of the time when I was a super helper last year – I left my power cord at the library with a young woman taking her end of year exams. I was awake enough and aware enough to see an opportunity to make someone’s day. That was an easy one. Now the task is to find a way to be a helper every day.
Should we have a live event, a Google hangout or Zoom video call to share some of the experiences we had helping others in 2016?
For now, you are invited to do three things.
1. Take the 15 minute Gratitude Challenge. Click Here to take the challenge.
2. Read about the amazing things that happened in 2016, and then comment below to let me know what resonates with you.
3. Set an intention for 2017 – what will you do to be a helper?
2016 Was a Year of Wonder, if we remember to look for it.
Here’s to an amazing 2017, filled with wonder and community.
Want to learn more about Mussar and Gratitude? Here’s a free preview of the Gratitude content from the American Mussar cycle.