It’s not easy to come up with an idea for a blog post every week so it’s hard to resist the temptation to take advantage of a subject as obvious as the New Year. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions so I can’t ramble on about that, however, I received a phone call at the end of the year that got me thinking. It was from a high school friend who had had a tough year, following a series of tough years. Despite everything he’s been through, his sense of humor was still sharp and acerbic and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. As we were winding down, he told me that he’d gotten his license to sell financial services and would I be interested in some life insurance?
I’m not very good at keeping my thoughts inside my head where they won’t get me into trouble, but this time I prevailed; conflicting emotional responses battled it out and called it a draw. My first reaction was irritation; so, we’re not old friends catching up? The next was sympathetic; I knew how difficult things had been and I appreciated his need to do whatever he could to keep body and soul together. While I kept all that to myself, I did allow as how I did not need insurance.
When we hung up, I thought about how lucky I was compared to my friend, and how tenuous it, writ large, all is. You can live responsibly, take care of yourself and your family, help friends and neighbors, but there are still so many things that are out of our control that even the best laid plans can come to naught in the end.
In the past year, two friends have had to give up their homes due to the recession-driven mortgage crisis (or was it the mortgage crisis that caused the recession?). These were good, responsible people, not ne’er do wells trying to beat the system.
Other friends lost parents and siblings and other loved ones this past year. I often rail against the birth/death system. It seems like such a bad plan to me. And the older I get, the worse a plan it seems. PBS did a two-part documentary on Woody Allen recently. Someone asked him if his relationship with death had gotten any better as he got older. His answer boiled down to no. Why do people think his preoccupation with death is strange? To me, it’s one of his most endearing qualities. I’m a little freer to concentrate on other things knowing that he’s worrying about death enough for the rest of us.
Years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book called, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I haven’t actually read it, but I’ve always loved the title. He wrote it partly as a response to his son’s death at fourteen from an incurable disease. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that reading it will be a New Year’s Resolution, but I will add it to my list of things to do.
I will, however, resolve to try to remember that even when we don’t know it, bad things are happening to people so we should hold everyone in kind regard. I’m going to try to do that ─ every day ─ because it doesn’t seem like something that should be reserved for the New Year, does it?