I had a birthday recently and it reminded me that when I was a very young man, I found it strange that on our birthdays we received presents rather than gave them. After all, it was a day to be thankful that I’m in this world and mindful that those around us are what make life such a precious gift.
So I guess it really shouldn’t be all that surprising – now that I’m not such a young man – that I find myself thankful for, and mindful of, that gift once again.
The gift that’s captured in the very simple Yiddish toast, “L’Chaim”.
Over the course of a recent clinical depression, I learned about the capacity for kindness and compassion in so many people – friends, family, co-workers, colleagues – people who showed me kindness and compassion not because there was something coming back to them.
No day-to-day trade-offs.
No promise of future gain.
So many people were kind and compassionate because, I believe, of a very basic fact – the world is filled with kind and compassionate people.
And, I believe it would be an insult even to attempt to repay the debt that I feel to them. I believe the best I can do is really the best any of us can do – I can pay it forward. I can do my best to show kindness and compassion to others and to teach it to my children.
I can pay it forward by working hard at being a good person who follows the Golden Rule.
To treat others as I’d like to be treated.
To not take for granted.
To not abuse anything, whether it’s a privilege, a skill, a gift, a relationship.
To maintain the sense of humility that leads to compassion.
To work hard at offering what I have to give to those who need it – whether it’s a few bucks, a favor, a smile, a joke or a word of encouragement.
And I believe that if I can remain mindful all year (not just around my birthday) that life is a gift, with its blemishes and imperfections, rough spots and rot, along with beauty, love and joy, then I may be living what could be called a good life. And, to me, a good life would be one that embraces life – all of it – as a fleeting, precious thing we can neither own nor have but are simply (beautifully, thankfully, joyously) a part of.
And these are the beliefs I’m reminded of when I hear or share the traditional Jewish toast – “L’Chaim”.
For the toast is not to good fortune or well being or good health.
The toast is to all of that and more.
To all of the things I need to remember.
To all of the things I can offer others.
To all of the things that make us who we are and make life what it is. The toast is to life – fully, totally, and unabashedly.
And, I believe, it says so beautifully.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.