Life Lessons

Jul 29th, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Reflections & Observations, Spiritual Growth
I just finished reading “Life Lessons” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler: ‘Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living.’ I try to read everything written by Dame Elisabeth ever since I read her “On Death and Dying” many years ago. People often called me as their rabbi to sit with them as a loved one lay dying. I learned a great deal about death and its lessons for life from her, and I am forever grateful.

“Life Lessons” was a quick and pleasant read. It sparked ideas that found their way into some recent blogs. (Riding With Shema, Not Moment to Moment, and The Comfort, Discomfort of Control, and The Fear Underneath) It sparked an idea for a recent lecture: “Additional Mechitzot,” in which I questioned why we work to diligently to separate men and women and not also people in different places in their relationship with God. The book was an excellent ‘Idea Sparker,’ but it did not teach me as much as Dame Elisabeth’s first book.

I post a regular column on The Foundation Stone, with the same title: Life Lessons; Stories and Parables That Illuminate Our Life’s Path. The column is written by Chana Chaya Klein, whom I respectfully call, “The Heileger Chana Chaya,” (The Holy Chana Chaya) in honor of her ability to transcend towering challenges, learn from them, and thrive in them, not despite them.

Although a devoted story teller, I do not enjoy reading stories. Ever since I was a child sitting on my father’s knees, I have critically questioned every story I hear or read. Yet, I read The Heileger Chana Chaya’s “Life Lessons” because each essay is filled with practical wisdom, and, at the very least, forces me to look at myself through the eyes of her “Lesson.”

What is the difference between one Life Lessons and the other? Well, I have known Chana Chaya for almost twenty years and have observed her development from a wonderful person into a truly great human being. She hasn’t stopped learning or dreaming for a single day in the past twenty years I have known her.

I have been a devoted fan of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross for twenty-nine years. I often get the feeling that she has not been growing as a human being. Her writings strike me as being the same as they were almost three decades ago. If I am going to read one Life Lessons or another, I choose the one written by a person who has never stopped learning Life’s lessons. I’ll stick with Chana Chaya.

In fairness to Dame Elisabeth, I must share an important story from Life Lessons, a story about her personally meeting one of her own lessons of life:

“After my strokes, I could live with the idea of dying and I could live with the idea of recovery. Instead, I had to live with being incapacitated, with my left side paralyzed, not getting better or worse. I was like a plane sitting on a runway: I wished it would either take off or go back to the gate. There was nothing to do but sit. I became angry. I was filled with anger at everything and everyone. I was even angry at God; I called Him every name in the book – and lightning didn’t strike me. Through the years, so many people have told me how much they appreciate my stages on death and dying, of which anger is one. But now, so many people in my life disappeared when I became angry myself. At least 75 percent of my friends left. Even some in the press condemned me for not having a “good” death because of my anger. It’s as if they loved my stages but didn’t like me being in one of them. But those who stayed with me allowed me to be, not judging me or my anger and that helped me to dissipate it.” (Page 155)

I honor her for her honesty. She learned to live what she had taught.

Chana Chaya’s Life Lessons are different: She only shares what she has already experienced first hand. Yes, I’ll stick with Chana Chaya.

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