Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Life is a journey; A sacred pilgrimage

A very close family friend is dying. He's not seeing many people, but I had the opportunity today to sit with him, for an hour or so in the hospital. It was the most sacred gift I could have ever asked for, with him.

As a rabbi, I make many hospital visits - all the time. I'm comfortable being in hospitals, and I'm comfortable being the rabbi making those visits. I've had good training and lots of experience. But sometimes the lines get a little blurry - I AM a rabbi, but I'm also like another child to this family friend. They are so close to us and have been for so many years, that they ARE family. This wasn't a rabbinic visit, this was a personal visit.

We talked about many things - we laughed and cried together. We talked about the journey I was making across the country, and really in my life. The kind of courage that it takes, perhaps, to move forward and onward, even when we are uncertain of what lies ahead. We talked about where we'd been, what used to be, and what life might bring. I can't begin to describe to you how special it was. This will, in all likelihood, be the last time I see him. And I'm so thankful for what we got to share together, not only today, but throughout the last 25 years that we've known each other.

At one point in the conversation, this friend and I mused about our mutual love of a special poem, that I've only ever come across in the High Holiday Machzor (special prayerbook for the High Holidays) "Gates of Repentance" and it's beautiful applicability to our conversation today. And I was surprised at how much of this poem I had internalized, so much so that I was able to recite the majority of it for him, right there, in that hospital room. It brought tears to both of our eyes.

We didn't talk much about death, or illness, but we did talk a lot about journeys, lifetimes, family, friends, and our shared history together. And even though we never said it, outright to one another, we shared our last goodbye together as well.

"Life is a Journey"

Birth is a beginning
and death a destination
And life is a journey:

From childhood to maturity
and youth to age;
From innocence to awareness
and ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to desecration
and then perhaps to wisdom.
From weakness to strength or
from strength to weakness
and often back again;
From health to sickness
and we pray to health again.
From offense to forgiveness
from loneliness to love
from joy to gratitude
from pain to compassion
from grief to understanding
from fear to faith.

From defeat to defeat to defeat
until looking backwards or ahead
We see that victory lies not
at some high point along the way
but in having made the journey
step by step
a sacred pilgrimage.

Birth is a beginning
and death a destination
And life is a journey;
A sacred journey to life everlasting.

~~ Rabbi Alvin Fine ~~


Ellen said...

The poem also appears in the CCAR Rabbi's Manual. The author is Rabbi Alvin Fine.

Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus

Elizabeth Wood said...

Thanks Ellen! I'll change it to note his authorship.

Phyllis Sommer said...

It always amazes me how this poem has such power for people. Especially since most people (um, not the rabbis) only hear it at the high holy days.