A few weeks ago, in the midst of a particularly hectic time in my life, my friend Lee posed a question like only she could: “Hi Maya! Quick question for you: Want to start a gratitude chavrusa?”
At 7:30am almost any call I get goes straight to voicemail. But Lee and I have the kind of friendship where we always pick up the phone, but have no problem being quick and even abrupt in our responses. “And what might that be?” I answered with slight annoyance in my voice.
“Every day, I will email you something I am personally thankful for; for your eyes only. You do the same. Before Rosh HaShanah next year, we will each print a book and look back at all the great things in our lives – no matter how hard it seems at the moment.”
Something about this proposition grabbed me. “Done,” I agreed and by 7:32am I had entered into a contract of sorts with Lee—someone who holds people highly accountable for what they’ve said they will do.
Within a few a minutes, I had an email in my inbox listing a personal reason to be thankful and happy. I was reluctant to respond, but I took the plunge and sent off a heartfelt one liner of appreciation. After a few days it became ritual, something I looked forward to each morning with my coffee, and something that momentarily pulled me out of my rut, forcing me to see something positive and beautiful. Surprisingly it felt good, and slowly I started finding a favorable aspect in all the frustrating situations I faced daily.
Perspective can change everything.
On Sunday, Sept 18th my husband’s aunt, uncle and two cousins were in a tragic car accident. They were driving from Toronto to Montreal to attend a family wedding when a truck driver dozed off and lost control of his wheel. The accident was fatal, claiming the life of my husband’s 27-year-old cousin, Moshe Kadoche, and leaving his aunt, uncle and cousin in a very fragile state.
It is Elul, the month before the High Holidays, a sensitive and introspective time associated with repentance. In this time leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is hard to comprehend a tragedy like this one without thinking of it in the context of this holy Day of Judgement. For me, the questions are endless, sending my mind racing each night into the wee hours.
Was Moshe done with his earthly duties? Was he exempt from Yom Hadin because he was pure and holy and ready for a better world, one where he is side by side with the creator? Or is life simply unfair, uncalculated and just brutal? The latter makes a new day very difficult to face.
As I think of our aunt and uncle who will go into this Yom Kippur without their youngest child, their only son, my heart aches as I grapple to reach for answers. I close my eyes and re-create that mindset I mastered with Lee each morning and somehow things feel a little easier to digest.
The notion that “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” is very real. It has allowed me to remember that people live in memories and life is more than just a collection of things, it is a collection of spiritual experiences in which you learn and you grow and you remember.
Perhaps it’s the millennial in me that has this never ending desire to translate each encounter into a meaningful one, but in the days since this tragedy I have hugged each of my kids a little tighter and given them extra love and patience, no matter how busy, stressed and tired I have been. I think of Moshe; a pure soul, an amazing friend, a devoted uncle, someone who loved and was loved in a very uncomplicated way and I try to emulate those qualities and do a little extra something in his honor.
This Rosh Hashana, I strive to shift the way I think and feel. I hope to channel some FOMO and do something really special with it. I have Lee to thank for our “gratitude moment” that has inspired me to see the glass half-full and Moshe to thank for teaching me to live in the moment and seize every opportunity to do good. These difficult experiences in life have the power of fortifying us to do more, to strive for better. For me, this is that moment.
May Moshe’s memory be a blessing and may the attitude of gratitude be woven into the fiber of our being for this very short period of time we call life.
*Written by Maya Cohen Abitbol in loving memory of Moshe Kadoche.