By today’s standards it was a small group of professional men who had gathered for fellowship and discuss growing old and worldly issues. As was customary one of the gentlemen had brought a large bottle of Concord grape wine he kept in his refrigerator. After pouring a glass for each individual he lifted his glass and said L’Chiam (pronounced le CHI yeem). As a visitor to the group I felt somewhat awkward and not fully aware of the meaning of the toast. I ask my friend and he said it meant “to life”
Still confused I asked, “is it to a happy life, an abundant life, or what does it mean?” His reply came back to me , “it only means ‘to life’.” This still didn’t make a lot of sense to me and I struggled to understand his meaning “Is it like a prayer?” He told me,“We pray for the things we don’t have. We already have life.” “But why do you say this before you drink the wine?” He smiled at me fondly and chuckled and told me for thousands of years all over the world people have said this same word to each other before drinking wine together. It was a Jewish tradition. By now I am intrigued and the confusion must have shown on my face. “You see my friend my people have struggled for life since the beginning of time and L’chiam means that no matter what difficulty life brings, no matter how hard or painful or unfair life is, life is holy and worthy of celebration.” “Even the wine is sweet to remind us that life itself is a blessing.”
(Note to reader: read the last two sentences again and again and let them sink into your inner most being—the soul.)
For days after this encounter I have pondered the concept of ‘life’ Probably this blog should be entitled “ramblins” rather than reflections. However, out of my ‘ramblins’ some starling revelations have occurred based upon ‘life.’ Stay with me on my ramblins. Life offers its wisdom generously. Everything teaches. Not everyone learns. Life asks of us the same thing all of our teachers did when we were in formal education classes; “pay attention” “stay awake” “don’t jump to conclusions.” My reflections include the understanding that wisdom comes most easily to those who have the courage to embrace life. It may require us to suffer. But ultimately we will be more than we were when we began.
A close friend who is a single mother was recently diagnosed with cancer. She began the normal processes of chemotherapy but was told the cancer was spreading throughout her body. This diagnosis resulted in a mastectomy followed by large doses of chemotherapy and radiation. A young lady in her 40’s caring for a child, confronted with death, chose only to look at life. On more than one occasion I found myself being uplifted by her spirit, joy, love and kindness. Months into treatment her beautiful hair had disappeared her heart became stressed and out of rhythm requiring heart surgery.
Days were lengthened with long stays in the bed with friends at her side. In one of our discussion we laughed at her frequent referral to her chemo-brain and her inability to process effectively mentally. Her comment was “death will have to come get me, I will not go to it.”
This past week my friend returned to full time work. To everyone who was by her side for the past year we observed someone who loved life and manifested the very best to everyone with whom she came in contact. Under enormous obstacles she continually chose ‘life’
An acorn makes no sense unless we know that woven into the way it is made, there is something waiting to unfold that knows how to become an oak tree. Like the acorn, inside each of us is the capacity for greatness. Our essential humanity is defined by this natural yearning toward wholeness and wisdom. This varies in strength from person to person. But first we must choose life-L’Chiam.