When You’re 94: Questions to Ask Yourself Right Now
And - is this a community, or a church of quiet?
Dear Ham-dels (this is not a typo – please keep reading to know why on earth I’m addressing you this way),
This is a picture of my beloved grandfather. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ve heard (or read) me talking about him, over the years. (And if you’re new here, welcome!)
My grandfather had a lilting voice, a philosophical bent, and a way of exclaiming over whatever was exclaimable in you. He was the kind of person who ended a phone conversation a bit too early, for fear of taking too much of your time. And he was one of the great Rabbis; people said he knew the Talmud by heart. To the Brooklyn congregation he served for 50 years, my grandfather was a religious leader: the principal of prayers, the shepherd of souls.
To me, though, he seemed in this world but not of it, like a character in a magic-realist tale. He carried the scent of an ancient library, as if he’d emerged, genie-like, from the stacks of old books that filled his small apartment. He was one of my favorite people in the world.
When I was a child, he told me bedtime stories: incredible, Scheherazade-like tales of his childhood in a Ukrainian shtetl (Yiddish for “village”). I heard the sadness in his voice as he wove marvelous stories of his long-lost parents, sister, cousins, neighbors -- all of them killed in the Holocaust, soon after he immigrated to America.
But I also heard so much love and so much wonder. Today, I can’t remember a single detail of those bedtime tales, but they were some of the best things that have ever happened to me. My grandfather’s mix of love, sorrow, and wonder is the magical potion I’ve been drinking all my life.
Would I prefer to have been served a potion with a lot less sorrow in it? Probably. But this bittersweet brew is the form of magic I was given, that many of us have been given. And so, I will drink.
But today, I want to talk about how my grandfather inspired me to start this Quiet Life community (for people who don’t necessarily love communities) -- and what his example means not only to me, but also to you. (You can learn more about our community here.)
When my grandfather died at the age of 94, after 62 years at the pulpit, I was a 25-year old corporate lawyer. I remember standing in my office, reeling at the news that he was gone. The NYPD had had to close the streets of his neighborhood to make room for the crowds of mourners. He would have been surprised to know this.
I thought about how he’d been with his congregation ‘til the end, traveling by wheelchair to the synagogue. I asked myself whether I’d still want to practice law at age 94, the way he still practiced rabbi-hood.
Of course, the answer was no.
It takes a long time to turn an ocean liner in another direction. But that was when I first started to turn around the ship of my career, in the direction of my writing dreams.
And now, my grandfather is still with me, as I grow older. I’m 55 now, thinking of what life means, and how to spend it, especially as the world seems to grow darker. I don’t know all the answers.
But would I still want to be with all of YOU when I’m 94, writing and connecting and figuring out who we are and why we’re here? The answer is YES. I would do that at 94, I would do it at 194.
The truth is, I think of this as a kind of congregation. I don’t call it that officially, because it sounds too formal and maybe too grandiose. But if you’ve been with me for a while, you know I’m always talking about kindred spirits – that it’s you kindred spirits I write for: you lovers of quiet, you seekers of depth, you believers in beauty.
And this is a place for us to come together in the name of our shared ideals of Quiet, Depth, and Beauty.
I think we all sense that these ideals carry a touch of the sacred.
And then! Just yesterday, in one of the Quiet Life comment threads, a group of you invented your own name for this new place of ours: you called it the Church of Quiet.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. You were articulating what I’d been feeling, all along.
Which brings me back to the way I addressed you in this letter: as ham-dels. This is a Persian term that I recently discovered for us kindred spirits. It means “of the same” (ham) “heart” (del): i.e., “of the same heart”. I learned this from a letter from a reader named Melody Moezzi, an author who wrote a memoir about learning Rumi’s poetry from her father, in its original Persian.
Jalal al’Din Rumi was a legendary 12th century Islamic scholar and Sufi poet and mystic — and I was delighted, but not surprised, when Melody told me that ham-del was his term. Rumi is one of the people who has animated my life, the way my grandfather did. I’m sure we’ll talk about him a lot, in future.
In the meantime: don’t the syllables themselves embrace you? The warm ah in “ham.” The soft el sound in “del”, paired with the gentle “d”.
There’s something magical about being in the company of kindred spirits. Of ham-dels. (In fact, you might want to share the Quiet Life with YOUR ham-dels - which you can do, here):
For today, dear ham-dels, welcome to the church of quiet.
Please share your thoughts below, in the comment section. Here are some questions you might like to think about/comment on:
1) Would you want to do what you’re doing now, when you’re 94?
2) If yes, how can you go even deeper – and what lessons would you share?
3) If not, can you start turning your ocean liner in another direction? (This question isn’t necessarily about your career; it’s about your life course, in general.)
4) Is this a community, or a congregation, a church of quiet?
Also! Our first Candlelight Sunday Gathering is coming up!
A week from tomorrow, Sunday December 17, is our first “Sunday Chat,” via Zoom, at 12 noon Eastern/9 am Pacific/5 pm UK time/10:30 pm India time.
Please come prepared with a candle to light (if you have one handy) and also a pen and paper, or Ipad/laptop.
The format will be an Ask Me Anything, followed by an exercise or two for us to work on, “alone together.” YOU WILL NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING GROUPY:), unless you want to.
To participate, you’ll need a paid subscription to The Quiet Life (remember that partial and full scholarships are available upon request - no one should decline to participate for lack of funds!).
I’m always glad you’re here,