My beloved husband, David Rubenstein, died on May 19, 2015. This is my second High Holidays without him. His death did not quite meet the standard we imagine when we say the words, “a ripe old age.” He was 69 years old, not young, but too young to be gone, before the birth of his first grandchild and without walking his youngest daughter down the aisle.
This loss is a constant reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of appreciating every single day in its potential for blessing. When we truly understand that our days are numbered, we begin to understand that each day is a treasure. David was in and out of the hospital numerous times during his illness. On one particular occasion, after he was released, he told me that he had seriously questioned whether he would be leaving the hospital alive and whether he would survive on one especially hard day.
As we drove on the 101 we were both in awe of the beauty of the sky and the sunlight and Camelback Mountain. We experienced the world with a sense of wonder. We saw everything anew, and I had a glimpse of David’s profound gratitude at being spared to appreciate the gift of that moment. Would that we could retain that perspective and not get so caught up in our everyday lives that we forget the miraculous and holy treasure of being alive.
I really resonated with what Rabbi Milton Steinberg wrote of a parallel experience, which is recorded in Mishkan Hanefesh-
“After a long illness I was permitted for the first time to step out of doors. And as I crossed the threshold, sunlight greeted me. This is my experience; all there is to it. And yet, so long as I live, I shall never forget that moment…The sky overhead was very blue, very clear, and very, very high. A faint wind blew from off the western plains, cool and yet somehow tinged with warmth – like a dry, chilled wine. And everywhere in the firmament above me, in the great vault between earth and sky, on the pavements, the building- the golden glow of sunlight. It touched me too, with friendship, with warmth, with blessing. And as I basked in its glory, there ran through my mind those wonder words of the prophet about the sun which some day shall rise with healing on its wings. In that instant I looked about me to see whether anyone else showed on his face the joy, almost the beatitude I felt. But no, there they walked – men and women and children in the glory of a golden flood, and so far as I could detect, there was none to give it heed,. And then I remembered how often I, too had been indifferent to sunlight, how often, preoccupied with petty and sometimes mean concerns, I had disregarded it, and I said to myself, how precious is the sunlight, but alas how careless of it are we. Source of blessings- may we open our eyes to the radiance around us; may we open our hearts with gratitude, and our souls with appreciation.- Rabbi Milton Steinberg, MH, RH, p. 65