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Renewing Friendships

As we close the Book of Genesis, and bury our remaining patriarchs, mourning in particular the death of Joseph, and as we bid farewell to the last remaining hours of 2020 with its searing pain and unrivaled singularity--who could ever have imagined a year like the one we just experienced--I wish to offer one lesson gained from 2020. This is what staying home for these many months has taught me.

Sometime in May, my brother suggested (thank you Mike!) the idea for Monday Musings, in which I talk with friends and colleagues for 15-20 minutes. I was a guest on Mike's show before creating one of my own. He is the rabbi of Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

The thought is that this program can serve as a spiritual kick start to the week, that our conversations can inspire others or give our listeners ideas to ponder. In a year in which weeks seem to blur into one another and look all too similar to each other, we envisioned that at the very least they can begin with different and varied thoughts.   A meeting with someone from whom we might learn something new can start each week.

The program evolved as time marched forward. I realized that I did not want to debate, or argue, with colleagues. I did not want the experience to be marked by disagreement but instead by discovery. There is plenty of disagreement out there and far too often argument that masquerades as entertainment rather than thoughtful debate. I wished instead to learn about friends' passions and gain insights from their personal journeys.

And I share this not so much as a promotional piece for my program (or Mike's for that matter), but instead as an opportunity to share what I have learned and to suggest that each of us can do likewise and gain similar sustenance from weekly get-togethers with friends.

Start every week with a phone call with a friend, although better to see your friend's face on FaceTime or Zoom. Put the date on the calendar well in advance. Allow yourself the pleasure of looking forward to catching up with your friend. And most important of all, use this as an opportunity to listen to what life has taught these friends. Don't talk about what you miss or how much you wished you could see them. Just listen to their offerings and be open to their wisdom.

I am privileged to be blessed by so many friends, some of whom I speak with regularly and others with whom this program provided me an excuse to rekindle friendships from years ago. Of course, it still pains me that I cannot see them in person and that I cannot even plan my next adventure when I might cross paths with them or even, and most especially, discover new friends on some as of yet, unscheduled journey.

And yet, when I look back on the year, I realize these Monday conversations helped me. I begin every week asking a friend to teach me. Every Monday I wake up and get to drink in the wisdom of others.

I recognize that longing for the adventures, and vacations, of the past and pining after the company of friends and family, as well as the frivolity of the celebrations that brought us together is a privilege and blessing many others might not share (there are far too many who long not for companionship but instead for food, shelter and warmth) and while I pledge to do more to help others, I also recognize that it is these very encounters that serve as the food on which my soul depends.

I miss seeing people in person. I did not need a pandemic to remind me that I am a people person. I am buoyed by the presence of others. And I have little doubt that I may very well start crying when I am able to hug a friend for the first time. I am lifted by community and even by crowds. (Today I even find myself dreaming about the day when I will be pushing through crowds of people in a jam-packed Penn Station.)

It is as if I am lifted in the hora's chair each and every time I am in the presence of others. And so, Monday Musings became my chair. I greeted each Monday morning as an opportunity to be hoisted on high.

I did not expect that when the idea for Monday Musings was first proposed that it would also help to sustain me. When I look back on this past year I have come to recognize that waking up each Monday in anticipation of seeing a friend and catching up with him or her has helped me. And it can help each of us as well.

So, make a list of friends. Schedule a conversation.

And open your heart to the wisdom of friends.

Your week will be transformed by the discussions. Your year might even be likewise redeemed.

Happy New Year! May 2021 only bring blessings of health.