What’s a picture worth?
A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. It does not, however, tell the whole story. In the last week I have heard fourteen different commencement addresses and thousands of words about endings, beginnings, and all the living that needs to be done in between. I have also taken hundreds of snapshots (with my phone) of smiling faces, family, friends, triumphant moments and loving embraces. The speeches were of various lengths and tones, each resonating and inspiring in its own way. The pictures, too, conveyed messages that said so much about the passing of time, the love shared between brothers and the joy of being together.
The pictures, however, are snapshots (often staged!) of moments of joy. We delete the ones where someone’s eyes are closed or smile is off. They don’t tell the story of the energy and time, the arguments and lectures, the tears and laughter, and the worries and disappointments that every family experiences before reaching such moments. As I sat listening to the many words of wisdom being spoken to my son and his friends, I thought to myself, what will these experiences impart to us beyond the electronic photo album?
As my head was spinning with thoughts of how I would handle Scott’s transition out of college and Matthew’s transition into married life, all in the span of a very wonderful week, I came to realize that their transitions are also my own. And as such, I can offer the following as the most important life lesson for them to carry.
We are graced in life with moments of joy and we are burdened with an equal number of sorrows. We are disappointed and deflated when the ecstasy of our celebratory moment fades, leaving us with only pictures to relive the experience, while we allow the pain of our sorrows to gnaw and eat at us. But any picture-perfect happiness–when examined more closely–is pocked with imperfections, even as the darkest moments are pierced by rays of light, hope and kindness. The best advice I can offer is to take in the holiness of every moment. Recognize that our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows are so because they come from the same place of love. Life’s transitional moments of birth, death and everything in between are most special because they reflect our humanity and our divinity, our mortality and our Godliness. And, miraculously, that well of love is never emptied as we draw from it; it only fills to an ever-expanding capacity.
Shehechiyanu ve-kiyemanu ve-higeeyanu lazman hazeh.
Rabbi Craig Scheff