What would you do on your next to last day?
The day before his death in 1972, Abraham Heschel, perhaps the greatest Jewish thinker of the past hundred years, insisted on traveling to Connecticut to stand outside in the freezing snow.
This ailing Jewish Rabbi was there to meet a Catholic priest who had been jailed for civic protest and was being released.
We will pause to absorb the symbolism of this moment.
I would love to have been there and heard their conversation. And I wonder, What was Heschel thinking at the end of his life?
Well, nine days earlier, NBC had interviewed Heschel on television. At the close of the program, the interviewer asked him if he had a special message for young people. He nodded his head and said:
“Let them remember that there is meaning beyond absurdity. Let them be sure that every deed counts, that every word is power, and that we all can do our share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and all frustrations and all disappointments. Above all, let them remember…to build a life as if it were a work of art.”
I’m struck by how Heschel combines modern realism with personal idealism—in such a few words.
First, a realistic world view: Yes, there is absurdity. Yes, there is often injustice in the place of justice. Yes, good people sometimes suffer and bad people sometimes prosper. Yes, relationships are full of failure and we sometimes hurt those we love. Yes, the rich and the powerful will often twist things to their advantage and the poor will suffer. Yes, we all fail and yes, we will all die. It has always been so.
But then, in effect, Heschel says…
That’s not the whole story. That’s just clutter, not core. There is something more. There is something beautiful. There is “meaning.” There is something that truly matters.
You matter. Your life and how you live it matters.
Today, you can be the artist who paints on the canvas of your day mixing colors like joy, quiet attentiveness, listening, inner strength, imagination, compassion, kindness, big-heartedness, forgiveness and even a dash of wisdom.
You can make your day…and your life…a work of art.
You can be—where you are—the antidote to absurdity.