On turning 60

Part of an ongoing series on resilience in Jewish spiritual life.

I am determined to greet my 60th birthday with excitement. I am not merely counting the years that have passed but I am anticipating the days to come. And so I want to set out a goal for myself for further personal growth. I hope to restore some of that wide-eyed childhood excitement about life and experience the miracle that is each and every day, what Abraham Joshua Heschel called "radical amazement."

The rational mind, modern technology, and to-do lists all direct my focus away from an appreciation of the wonders we can experience. It's hard to live in radical amazement while the smartphone is buzzing, traffic is maddening and bad news is constantly breaking.

Our spiritual ancestors wandering the desert saw daily miracles. Maybe it was easier for them without modernity's distractions. Or maybe they knew how to look! The Torah reading this week ends with the verse “God's cloud was on the Mishkan (tabernacle) by day, and fire was in it by night, visible to the whole House of Israel, in all their journeys” (Exodus 40:38). Today we see plenty of clouds and fires – be they natural wonders or modern creations – but can we discern God's presence within?

Rabbi Noa Kushner wrote: “What would happen if we started looking for God's presence in fire and clouds once more? How much do our relationships with God stand to gain from our actually seeing what may have been there all along?” Said differently, what would it take for us to acknowledge the miracles of our daily lives even if they seem obscure like a cloud or burning like fire?

If a similar pillar of cloud and fire that contained God's presence appeared today, would I be saying "the cloud is blocking my view"? Would I be worrying "that fire is burning too hot"? Or might I understand that this particular cloud does not obstruct and obscure. God’s cloud forms a pillar of protection and direction. And could I discern that the fire contained within does not destroy but rather lights the night with God's reassurance and radiance? 

Whether I have 60 days or 60 years more, I am eager to wake daily to experience awe and wonder. Sometimes my vision will be troubled and a cloud will seem merely to block the sun. Other days, I might have faith that a cloud will lead me over uncertain turf. Some days "fire" might scorch with loss and disappointment. Other days, "fire" will light my awareness that my life is full of love and capacity for caring. 

At 60 years old I am still learning how to navigate the path of life whatever clouds may appear or fires may burn. To ease the journey, I hope to recapture the childlike joy that comes with an appreciation that what might seem ordinary is really miraculous.  

Rabbi Evan J. Krame