ELUL 1 5775- August 16 2015

Fire Island

When I was a kid I would pretend to be dead. A lot.

This usually happened in play-mode with other friends and cousins, staging elaborate weddings and massacres, fairy tales and biblical battles. The usual stuff that Second Generation of the Holocaust kids growing up in Israel in the 70’s would play out.

I remember laying on the ground once, under a tree, on a summer shabbat afternoon, 8 or 9 years old, pretending to be dead. My eyes closed and limbs stretched out, maybe tongue sticking out, fallen on some mythic now forgotten battleground. Then all of a sudden I was struck with the terrible fear of knowing that there’s no knowing for when death will come – for me or anyone.

There are many ways, some more healthy or age appropriate than others, in which we mortals imagine the unimaginable and get used to the fact that ready or not, oblivion and heartache will happen to us and to the ones we love. And there are myriad ways, some wiser than others, that we have perfected to avoid this knowledge and go on living regardless of what waits ahead.

But here I am, some 30 years later, taking on a 40 day ‘play dead’ project, pretending that I know more about the when and what of death than all those years ago. I’m using this pretense to prepent – to be motivated during this annual process of reflection and self improvement, with a looming deadline and a goal in mind and heart: How would I live each day with more joy and intention if it was one of my last?

(Yes – i am throwing salt behind my back, knocking on the wooden deck I’m sitting on, and reciting spells to confuse the evil eye.)

And to jumpstart the pretending I am playing this scene over and over again in my head:

A phone call. your doctor. It’s serious. A few months at most.


Now what?

This isn’t fiction even if for me, this very minute, it is. In the past months I’ve sat with friends who got this phone call, and I got on a flight from one end of the world to another to be with my family when death did strike. Right this minute, as I write this and as you read, a clock is ticking, and to some of us, more loud and pressing than for others. it isn’t a choice.

But it is a choice to pay attention. To not take any of this life for granted at all. Not with fear but with truth and gratitude and honesty and humility.

What if I had one day to live? What if I have forty? Can this ‘what if’ help me make some changes, figure my priorities, chart the path of progress, purpose and inner peace? Will this help me live each day more fully and help me get to the finish line with more serenity whenever that comes?

At some point in Jewish history, those who understand the ways of soul asked these questions and invented this annual project in which we are invited to wrap up a year of living and prepare our souls and bodies for the one ahead. Gradually, the project grew to include 40 or sometimes even 60 days of awe and self-reflection. Now known as the high and holy days – dedicated to Teshuva – the Hebrew word for ‘repentance’, or ‘return’, ‘recovery’ and ‘change’.

It begins today, on the first day of the last month of the year and culminates 40 days ahead with the Day of Atonement on which we mimic our death by fasting, wearing shrouds and confessing our wrongdoings. It’s the day on which we imitate death so that we may truly be alive.

And to get there fully, I choose to plan ahead and start the process now.

This is the seventh year I’ve taken on this 40 day journey into the new year, with the intention of daily reflection and action, shared with familiar and new friends, inviting conversation and shared growth.

* Each day, starting today, I’ll pause to take stock, ask questions, seek inspiration, reject some habits, take on commitments, and choose life, out loud and better. Doing so publicly will help me stay accountable and on task. I hope it inspire you to do the same and will appreciate your comments, thoughts and inspirations.

My first daily task is list-making.

I imagine that should I get this phone call, with an expiration date, much too soon and shocking, I’d start off by making lists. There are stages of grief, to be sure, but for now I want to focus on the practical, invoking my maternal Germanic DNA with precision and a plan:

To do lists. To be lists. Bucket lists.

What’s the most pressing unfinished business? Which delights have been forgotten? Who awaits a conversation? What is weighing on my heart? How can I help the ones I love?

So here’s my first list, far from complete, of five things I will take on this next month towards fuller living:

Review the people who matter most in my life – family, colleagues, friends – are there tensions or distances that I can address and maybe even solve? (start off with 5. )

Who do I most want to spend time with? (make one playdate plan today. )

Debts and obligations – do I owe anybody anything – money, borrowed book, a broken promise? What can I do about it? (

unnamed-3What’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do and can try and take on? Even if only in symbolic way. (Boxing!)

Can I take on one daily habit for the next 40 days to help me center? (5 min. morning journal)

What physical mess can I begin to clean up today – a closet, a drawer, an inbox? (my physical desktop)

These are just suggestions. Don’t over do it. Less is more and what matters is setting us up to success.

Care to share what’s on your top five list? let’s learn from each other how to do this right.

Day one. The journey started on the beach in Fire Island. A quiet sit, a 5 min. journal, a swim in the ocean just beyond the point of fear of back. Jumping in the air as high as I can.

To Life.

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