Tonight, when the sun sets, Jews all over the world will begin to observe Yom Kippur – the day of atonement. It is the holiest day of the year, and a fasting day, which means no food or liquid is consumed for 25 hours. Last year, I wrote a post about the meaning of Yom Kippur—you can read it here to learn more about the holiday. Today, as Yom Kippur approaches, I feel the need to write about gratitude.
I’ve found that the time period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can be somewhat intense. As we build towards this holiest of days, pressure seems to build as we seek atonement for the missteps we’ve taken during the past year. This week has been no exception.
Earlier in the week, I appeared on a morning show called San Diego Living and taught one of my noodle kugel recipes for the break fast meal. The day before the appearance was super busy, and I was feeling stressed. Holiday writing and recipe deadlines were piling up, one after another. A large group of family friends was arriving the next day for a weeklong stay. I had to prep for the TV segment, then drive to San Diego for the appearance, then drive back to greet our guests. Kugel needed to be cooked and the segment planned out, step by step. On top of it, our parrot Tooki had escaped, and was trapped on top of a tree high in the neighbor’s yard, completely out of our reach. It was just one of those days, you know?
Anxious and tense, I went to the store to buy kugel-making supplies. While shopping, I passed a young boy. He was completely bald, hairless, pale—a cancer patient. He couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. Just like that, my perspective shifted. I felt like somebody had punched me in the gut. God reached out and shook my core, reminding me that all of the “problems” piling up around me were really insignificant. This little boy was in the fight of his life, and I was worried about noodle kugel. The pressure I’d felt minutes before suddenly lifted, replaced by extreme empathy for this little boy. Why? Why did somebody so young, so innocent, have to suffer like that? The boy’s image stayed with me.
That night (after our parrot miraculously found his way back home), as I cleaned my desk before leaving for San Diego, I came across a picture of my grandma. It’s the last picture I have of her, taken a few months before she died of cancer in 2007. We were standing together with my mom and brother on a day trip to Morro Bay, CA. Grandma was thin, weak, wearing a wig… but she was smiling so beautifully, happy that we were all together in that moment. I felt overwhelmed with sadness and loss. I miss her.
A couple of days later, on Wednesday, the world lost Steve Jobs to cancer. He was the Thomas Edison of my generation. I grew up using Apple products, and I couldn’t run my website without the technology that he created. When I heard the news, I felt profoundly sad. He was not just a visionary—he was a father, a husband. He died much too young.
As you can see, cancer seemed to be a running theme this week. Yesterday I searched myself, wondering why this terrible disease had made multiple appearances in my world just prior to Yom Kippur. And I’ve come to the conclusion that each appearance was a gift.
The little boy gave me the gift of clarity. All of the “problems” I felt piling up around me paled in comparison to this boy’s brave battle. He reminded me of what’s really important.
My grandma gave me the gift of remembrance. The people we love are only here for a limited time. Appreciate them, and let them know that they are appreciated. Love them, and honor them, while you can.
Steve Jobs gave me the gift of perspective. No matter how brilliant we are, or how much money or power or influence we have in this world, we ultimately have no control over when the journey ends. When our time has come, it’s come.
And now here I am, feeling nothing but gratitude. I’m so grateful to be here, in this moment. I’m grateful for my family and my friends. I’m grateful for love. I’m grateful for the gift of memory. And I’m grateful for you, my readers, who keep me energized and committed to our growing cooking community. You’ve all taught me how to be a better, stronger person this year—each and every one of you—and I thank you for that. You have enriched my journey.
On Yom Kippur, as we atone and build up the foundation for the year ahead, I’m most grateful for the gift of life. I’m learning that each day is an opportunity, a chance to change the world for the better. As Steve Jobs said in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University:
Almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart… No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Well said, Mr. Jobs. Well said.
G’mar Chatima Tova! May you have a meaningful fast. See you in the new year.
Love and Light,