"It is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of rejoicing."
Every time I attend a funeral, I return home newly inspired. It may seem like a strange thing to say, but beyond the loss, beyond the pain, is a renewed sense of opportunity.
Many years ago a good friend died suddenly of a heart attack. In the days prior to his passing I had been feeling grumpy and put upon. Why did I have to do everything? Couldn't anyone help? Wasn't there someone else who could chair that organization? Make that new mother dinner? Have those Shabbos guests?
Standing at the funeral, conscious of a powerful life cut dramatically short, my attitude changed. How lucky I felt to have the continued strength and opportunities to give. "Bring it on," I said to the Almighty. (And He did.)
Last week I was at another funeral of an older man who had lived a very full life. In the days leading up to this death, I had also been feeling grumpy and put upon. (Sounds like a bad habit, right? In self-defense I must point out that these two experiences were nine years apart!) Things didn't seem to be working out the way I expected and life seemed a little grim, a little joyless. I lifted out of my self-preoccupation to listen to the eulogies.
Repeatedly described as larger than life, this was a man who knew how to take pleasure in every moment -- and how to share that pleasure with those he loved. Approaching his friends before an evening of socializing, he would often say "We're gonna have a ball." And they did.
Whenever I feel myself sinking into familiar depressive habits, I repeat that mantra.
Being a firm believer that attitude is everything, I decided to incorporate that perspective into my life. Whatever we're doing, "we're gonna have a ball!" Whenever I feel myself sinking into familiar depressive habits, I repeat that mantra. Whenever we go out, my husband and I say it to each other. (It even worked for parent-teacher conferences last night!)
It's not about spending our lives partying. It's about finding the joy in every moment. It's about not letting discouragement dominate. It's about taking control of our reactions. And smiling. And laughing.
I didn't really know this man. His gift to me has been his daughter, a student turned close friend. But now he's given me another present -- a focus on the possibilities of life, an openness to the opportunities, an ability to take pleasure.
In his last years, my friend's father's health deteriorated rapidly. His diet became severely restricted. One day recently he was alone with a friend. "What can I do for you?" she asked. "I'd really like a hot dog," he said. Even though that was against doctor's orders, this friend knew that a small pleasure can make a big difference. She got him the hot dog. (And didn't tell his wife until the funeral). I'm not advising disobeying doctor's orders on a regular basis. But once in a while...
We all need to eat that hot dog, to take those small pleasures, to do the things we need to perk up our days. For ourselves and for those we care about.
And before whatever you have to face -- an important meeting at the office, an evening out with your spouse, homework with your children -- I promise you that it is a difference experience if you first rub your hands together and say "We're gonna have a ball." You will.