I think it was Erma Bombeck who wrote a will that said, ‘If I die suddenly, burn down my house so no one sees it….’ Or something to that effect. She wanted to tidy up her house, wash those floors, shine those windows so that after death she would not be remembered as the slob. And if she didn’t have a chance to do chores before death, she wanted evidence to her sloth destroyed.
I was fascinated when I went to pay a Shiva call to a family who was mourning their matriarch. She was an incredible lady, spiritual, giving, disciplined. Yet, she had confided in a daughter in her old age that, if she could do it again, she would have eased up a little on her strictness. Been more open to loving and laughing. Been more open to being gentle.
I repeated those words to another great woman, a well-known educator. She nodded her head in understanding and confessed, “if I would be able to do it again, I’d enjoy life more. I think now I understand that Hashem wants us to enjoy life.”
My mother told me a wonderful thought about her own life. She says she feels that G-d gave her a blank check when she was young. She cannot blame G-d at this point for the sums she paid herself. She wrote her own check. G-d gave her the gifts in life and told her, “go, run with it, write your own check.”
“You should know,” my mother warned me, “that you decide what to enjoy or not to enjoy in life. You decide what your life will be, what your focus is. You write the check.”
Many people take the pity party route. Many take the party-all-the-time route. Free choices.
When Communism came to Hungary after WWII, my mother was smuggled out of Europe and sent to Israel. There she lived in a wonderful orphanage, Bais Avraham. At one point, the girls were taken on a camping trip. The counselors divided them into various groups. Each group got the same supplies: some string, some potatoes, a pot, a few other assorted odds and ends. They were told that using those things they were to build a home and cook a meal. One group declared, “What are they nuts, these counselors!? There is no way to do anything substantial with this.” They, therefore, to appease the counselors, roped out an area as their “home” and boiled the potatoes. Plain, simple, and lazy. Other groups were more creative and devised ways to lash about trees to make more complex “home structures” and made the potatoes a bit more gourmet. My mother said, as they walked from group to group, all the children got the message they were being taught. You might be given the same exact measure of things as everyone else; but you decide what to do with it.
We are told that when we come up for Judgment Day to the Heavenly Courts our life will be measured to someone who had the same circumstances as us. “I couldn’t learn Torah because I was poor,” might be a valid excuse, until contrasted with Chanina ben Dosa who was even poorer. “I couldn’t focus on spirituality because I was rich” might seem valid in this world, but then again, in the next you might be confronted with “were you richer than Rabbeinu HaKadosh who was vastly wealthy and codified the Mishne.” “I couldn’t do Chesed because my career was a full day of work.” Oh, really, busier than the Rambam who would be so exhausted after work and then Chesed, he couldn’t lift himself up afterwards.
In other words, circumstances we have in life are not excuses to opt out of living the life we might dream of living. You want to be happy, be happy. You want to be giving, give.