(December 31, 2015 / JNS)
There’s a moment at the opening of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” currently playing in Chicago, when the character portraying Jewish singer Carole King remarks that even life’s hardest parts can turn out to be beautiful.
Indeed, she was on to something. Most of us have lives that overflow with blessings and we should thank God for them every single day. But it’s just as much the struggles that shape us into the people we are. When I think about the challenges I’ve been through in my life—family illness, the loss of loved ones, and relationships that ended—those are the times, with a little distance and hindsight, that have morphed into unexpected blessings. For it’s not the just the smooth sailing, but the tough stuff that makes us stronger, kinder, fuller, more empathetic human beings.
My sister used to joke that she wanted to wrap her three young sons in “bubble wrap,” to shield them from the dark parts of the world. She’s given up on that motherly mission, and considering the state of the world these days, there isn’t enough bubble wrap on the globe for that anyway. No, we not only can’t hide our children from the pain of life, but it’s often their struggles that help form them into the mensches we hope they become.
We’ve all heard the old adage from Jewish folklore that “This too shall pass,” indicating that current conditions in life are always fleeting. When bad things happen, I think about those words that my grandparents and parents would often tell me, and it reminds me that most people are resilient and the bad times are only temporary.
At the same time, we can’t live our lives in constant joy either. The joy, too, shall pass. But in times of pain, we should try really hard to hold onto the faith in knowing that happiness will return.
As author and success coach Jen Sincero says, “Faith is having the audacity to believe in the not-yet-seen.”
How lucky we are as Jews to ring in two new years—the secular new year that we just celebrated and the Jewish new year in the fall, two chances for a clean slate, two chances to start the next chapter in our stories.
When some Jewish girlfriends and I met for dinner recently, we took turns going around the table and sharing the biggest lessons we learned over the course of the past 12 months.
We’d collectively charted all kinds of new paths in 2015—exploring our spiritual lives as Jews, forging new friendships and deepening older ones, starting new romantic pursuits and closing the chapter on others, raising little children, and taking on new professional challenges.
For many, our past year played out differently than we’d envisioned, filled with simcha, but also sadness.
As we watched some doors close these last 12 months, we’ll see new ones open with unexpected blessings in 2016. Each of us will take a journey in the year ahead, and there’s something hopeful and exciting about the unknown, the beckoning prospect of many varied paths and possibilities that will unfold for each of us this year, with new people waiting just around the corner to enter our lives.
Yet while we embrace the sweetness of our hopeful futures, we know all about the bitterness too, in our own personal lives and in the world at large, a world that seems to be shattering in chaos before our eyes. We know all too well the world confronts us with human turmoil, strife, and disaster, a world crying out for repair—for tikkun olam (repairing the world).
Here’s wishing all of us faith and resilience to triumph over our personal and collective struggles, with whatever growth and insights they may be bring in the year ahead—and wishing to all a new year overflowing with blessings.
Cindy Sher is executive editor of Chicago’s JUF News, where this column first appeared.