I was reading Genesis the other day, getting ready for a class, and was again struck by its complexity and beauty. We enter this world naked and unblemished, created through love – the love of our parents and, significantly, God’s love and approval. Then we are commanded to seek out other humans with whom to establish partnerships and loving relationships, people with whom we can fulfil our human purpose, people with whom we can establish a helpful and supportive existence, companions who are our counterparts. What a vision of human relationships and reality!
Yet we suffer. We consistently make mistakes and suffer the consequences. Failure, not evil, is built into the system. And we seldom understand why.
Why do good people suffer? Why do bad people gain? Why do I make plans that never seem to materialize? Why?
Suffering seems to be so entwined with living that it appears as a direct consequence of human life. We make so many mistakes. The road seldom appears smooth.
Yet, life is so rich and full of loving relationships, if we reach for them.
Later in the biblical corpus, the narrative informs us that God placed before us the good and bad, life and death. We are told to choose life, but the decision, the path, is ours to take. How?
It is the beginning of the month of Elul, right before Rosh Hashanah – an appropriate time for these musings, I suppose. It is also time for me to reflect on my life lived as I age. When my parents were alive, they existed at that border between life and death. Now that they are gone, I stand at that place. Alone. But not alone.
Sometimes I find comfort in belief. Sometimes not. I struggle with issues and questions, especially why my loved ones suffer. But I can remain on track by contemplating that message of Genesis. There is suffering, but remember, there is cosmic love. Remember that human love exists and can be redemptive. If we can reach for it, establish it, build it, create it, then we have lived. In love, we are truly alive.
One song from the TV show Glee resonates for me. In it, the choral group sings “Send me someone to love!” Mind you, they did not say “Send me someone who will love me.”
The sentiment that I can truly be alive if I love someone resonates within the second chapter of Genesis. After God forms man, God builds the corresponding female form. And then God, the ultimate matchmaker, introduces them to each other. The plot line implicates marriage, but confirms most explicitly two points: first, that humans must form significant physical and emotional relationships. “It is not good for man to be alone!” That is how we are created and who we must become. Lovers. Companions.
But the second point is equally momentous. It is not easy to find such a partner. Someone who is equal, created directly and intentionally for this coupling, yet able to remain independent. We need help in this venture. And it is a struggle, perhaps the most important struggle of our insufficient lives.
As the song goes, we need help finding someone – the right one – to love.
Note that the request in the song is not the self-centred plea to send someone to love me. Rather, it expresses our fundamental need to reach out and love someone. If we can do that, we have lived; we have chosen “the good” of life.
So as I contemplate another Rosh Hashanah, as I try to ignore my aging body and its limitations, I can appreciate that while I struggle, I have lived a rich life. I loved one man for 52 years. I loved four children, their spouses and 12 grandchildren. I am not contemplating death, just recognizing that I have lived.