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Each Day a Masterpiece
Mom with a View

Each Day a Masterpiece

This Yom Kippur I'll be thinking about living every moment to its fullest.


John Wooden, the famed UCLA basketball coach, passed away recently. He was 99 years old. He was an old-fashioned, no-nonsense man who led his team to multiple championships during the turbulent sixties without tolerating any disobedience or acting out. If they didn’t like his rules, they could look for another team. That principled stance alone merits at least one separate article; it is so unusual in today’s world of badly behaved celebrity athletes. In fact, Wooden’s life and values offer many lessons for all us – about loyalty, love, faith and joy.

I want to focus on the last component. He lived by a set of rules. One of them was to “Make every day a masterpiece.” I love that one. It is a very Jewish idea.

When our forefather, Abraham, died, the Torah says that “he came with his days.” The traditional understanding is that he lived every day to the fullest, he didn’t waste a moment. In John Wooden’s lingo, he made every day a masterpiece.

That’s what I am thinking about this Yom Kippur. I want to live every moment to its fullest. I don’t want to waste or “kill” time. But even more than that, I don’t want it to be grim endurance. I want to take pleasure in each moment. I too want to make every day a masterpiece.

As I write this, I am sitting in a cabin in the woods just outside Ashland, Oregon. The sunlight is filtering through the Douglas firs, the sky is really blue (not the smoggy haze of Los Angeles) and the only sounds are the birds. Deer roam freely through the forest – and even alongside the highway. We leave our cabin to hike, kayak, and bike (and see the occasional play – there is a Shakespeare Festival here after all!). It’s easy to make everyday a masterpiece in this environment. I wake up, look out the window and the masterpiece is already painted.

But real life is not vacation. How do I take this back home? How do I make this change amidst carpool and laundry and homework? While mopping and teaching and writing (!) and paying bills? (And I’ve only listed some of the easier chores.)

How do I make the most of each moment? How do I avoid empty time? And most important of all, how do I access the joy available in every minute?

Ideas and theories are nice. They’re certainly a good starting place. But I need tools. I need a plan. I need a schedule and strategy. One of the 48 Ways to acquire Torah is to treat our life like a business. We need mission statements, goals, strategic steps to accomplish our goals – and even a budget!

Ever since I have reached that stage of life where reading glasses are a must, I have placed a pair in almost every room in the house as well as in my purse and my special evening bag. It is very frustrating being unable to read what is directly in front of me. The problem lies when I go out with my husband. I usually don’t bring a pocketbook. If he doesn’t bring his glasses, who knows what we could end up ordering? I am working on being more prepared.

Likewise with my time (you were wondering where this was leading!) There are so many situations where we are stuck waiting – for late friends, at doctors’ offices, at the bank, for carpool (do you notice that back-to-school theme?), even at weddings. I am now planting a book of Psalms in every purse and glove compartment for just these eventualities. Even reading the news online on my Blackberry is better than “spacing out,” than wasting that precious gift.

I am also planning my schedule a little better (at least I am while I sit here and there is no phone service and limited email access to distract me!). I have noticed that if I save my growth-related learning for evening, I am frequently too tired to do it (“Gotcha!” says the yetzer hara) so I am moving it to the morning – before I jump into my day. I will have to exercise great discipline and self-control – and not enter that room with the computer in it – or the one with the stove in it – or the one with the washing machine…

I also need to be a little more methodical about my reading. I have the books piled by my bed. Now I have to get organized about reading them – and about focusing on the ones that I can really benefit from.

And finally – the joy. I saved it for last because it seems to be the hardest. Yes, it’s easy to see and make the masterpiece as I sit here alone (My husband and son are out hiking so it’s really quiet) but the masterpiece is also available at home. I just need to look harder and work on it. While it’s true that you can’t see the stars (in the sky) in LA, the flowers and trees are beautiful too. Our garden should make me smile. The mildness of the weather, the beauty of the state is a real gift. My children are each masterpieces – An artist frequently notices the smudges and misplaced brushstrokes – we need to step back and appreciate the whole! It is a blessing to live in a community – to give and receive and to share the joy and the pain. Being part of Jewish people is being part of the masterpiece of the Almighty’s creation – a privilege and a responsibility that are priceless.

Each day is already a masterpiece; I just need to change my focus. I need to concentrate on the gifts and pleasures and downplay or ignore the negative. And I need to make each moment count! This Yom Kippur, I am trying to make that change. I am trying to live like our forefather Abraham (or at least like John Wooden!) by both making every day a masterpiece and through enjoying the masterpiece of a day that the Almighty has created just for me.

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September 12, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Dodi, September 16, 2010 10:00 AM

Be still

Emuna, I noticed in your article that the big obstacle in your awareness is the doing. It isn't what we do, it is how we do it. Psalms 46:10 says it all. If we simply do tasks and are not aware of our connection with Hashem in the mundane then we lose the joy of life. Those simple breaths of thank you make all the difference! The Fathers had it right, that in all things we have the opportunity to praise Hashem 100 times a day. How often in our lives as women do we do that? That is the real difference in enduring and having a masterpiece of a day. Not the tasks, but the opportunity to praise HE Who Gives us the opportunity to do them. The simple change in awareness will show us that the act of washing the dish or cleaning the house is an act of prayer in itself. Could it be that we are overwhelmed by the thought of the size of the job? We are able with Hashem's help to accomplish all things, without HIM we are doing nothing but rolling Tantalus' ball. The change in consciousness makes all the difference. May you find the joy in losing your glasses, my dear.

(3) Anonymous, September 15, 2010 8:39 PM

more on "spacing out"

What you perhaps refer to, is the time I use to be fully present. I have a meditation practice, which has helped me be fully and truly alive, even when my mind is not occupied with distractions. The practice leads to integrating your mind, soul, and body so that those moments can often be when you are most alive. That is my experience, anyway.

(2) DEBY, September 15, 2010 10:19 AM

Train yourself to use you spare "spacing out" time to connect

Quote: Even reading the news online on my Blackberry is better than “spacing out,” than wasting that precious gift. If we could just get used to using our time of waiting in line at the supermarket, waiting for our turn at the doctor's office, bank or wherever it may be, to connect to G-d. Look around at the amazing things he created, all the good he provides you with, just let yourself connect and feel your love for him flow through your whole being. This can be done at any time in any position and it requires neither Tehillim nor reading glasses!

(1) Beth Jones, September 14, 2010 3:40 PM

wonderful article

Emuna, This article was excellent! I felt like you were just reading my mail, from when you talked about how we take this feeling of life is a masterpiece back home with the laundry and cooking to the books on your table and needing to make time to read them to when you talked about your reading glasses this year (I got my first pair this year at age 47). I loved how you summed this up - our children are masterpieces, creation is a masterpiece, our very lives are. IShalom!

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