A Richard Thompson 'Modah Ani'
Seven Miriam stories

This week's portion: the years of my life

This week we're reading the Torah portion called Chayyei Sarah, "The life of Sarah," which begins with Sarah's death and burial.

It seems to me that what Torah is saying in this juxtaposition is that the fullness of Sarah's life could only be measured when it had ended. Until it ended, it was in-progress, always changing. Only when her life came to its close could it be seen as a perfect whole. Only when it was over could Torah say "the life of Sarah" and refer to the totality of what Sarah's life was.

Each of us is like Sarah. The fullness of our lives can't be measured. The richness of our expriences, our relationships and adventures -- these are always in-progress, on a continuum. Any moment when we think we can stop and seize time in our hands, we've already lost what we were trying to hold on to. We are always growing and changing. We can't know the whole of our lives until the story ends.

Only when my life has reached its close -- whenever that may be -- will the text of my life be able to say, "The life of Rachel was so-many-years," and in that simple statement encompass everything I was and everything I became.

In my "Torah as a mirror for spiritual development" class this week, we were invited to consider the question of our own "machpelah moment." (Machpelah is the name of the cave in which Sarah was buried.) When I imagine my own gravestone, what words do I hope might be inscribed there, describing who I was and how I served God in this life?

The answer I came up with was "Through words and deeds, she opened the door for others to find God." I hope that my words (even the apparently ephemeral ones, grocery store conversations and miscellaneous tweets, alongside the poems I hope will have greater staying power) -- and my actions, in all their varied forms -- will reflect my yearning to connect other people with something greater than themselves.

I said above that the title of this Torah portion, "Chayyei Sarah," means "the life of Sarah." And it's usually translated that way. But the Hebrew more accurately means "the lives of Sarah." Each of us lives many lives. There's never one singular narrative of who we are. There's the story of my professional life and the story of my personal life, the story of my life in my childhood and the story of my life in my thirties, and the story of my life in my sixties which I haven't yet led, the story of my life as I would tell it and the story of my life as others would tell it.

The text of my life is written in black fire (the written details) and also white fire (the spaces between the words; what's unrecorded, ephemeral, unknown.) Written, but not complete. Always-being-written. I'm writing it now. You're writing yours. What do you think the book of your life will say about who you hoped to become?