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Glory Days

October 2, 2014 | by Emuna Braverman

Don’t live in the past. The best is yet to come!

I was thinking about the Bruce Springsteen song, Glory Days, the other morning:

Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days

Like many of his songs, it’s a tale of unrealized dreams, of loss of hope and, as per the title, a suggestion that, if there was any good, it was all in the past. (And this is a song we want to dance and sing along to?)

And it struck me how antithetical this perspective is to a Jewish perspective – and yet how easy to fall prey to it. How easy it is to live on past successes – high school quarterback, homecoming queen, and valedictorian – and to never really move on to embracing today.

Part of the appeal of these glory days, I believe, was their simplicity. We were teenagers, we had few responsibilities, the future was all ahead of us and anything was possible.

Now we’re older with multiple responsibilities with some doors opened and some doors closed forever. Life is much more complex and our choices are much more nuanced and complicated. We yearn for an easier time. We long for those carefree days (I’m not even sure they really were but they’ve certainly become so in our imaginations!).

But would we really want to go back? If we were given the opportunity to rewind the clock, would we want to do it all over again? Or can we look at this moment, this time and take pleasure in it – complexities, uncertainties, anxieties and all?

Perhaps life seemed easier because the only people we really cared about then were ourselves. When we open ourselves up to loving others, we become vulnerable; we become more susceptible to pain. We pay the price for caring but we get the gift also. Would we really return to that self-centered time? A teacher of mine grew up in a large family with only her widowed father to parent them. When all the children were married, she turned to him and asked if he could finally relax. “Are you kidding?” he replied. “I have more people to worry about now – your husbands and wives, your children! But I wouldn’t trade these new worries for anything in the world.” His life didn’t get easier but it did get richer.

Perhaps life seemed better because the future with all its potential still awaited us. We could be or do anything. Yet, no matter how old we are, there are still many choices in front of us and perhaps more significant ones – maybe we have closed off the possibility of running for president (I remember that when Bill Clinton was elected president it was a watershed moment for many male baby boomers. They finally had to come to terms with the fact that this would never be their fate.), but we can still be loving and kind to our spouses, our children, our friends and our neighbors.

Although it sometimes seems like open-ended possibilities are a gift, perhaps it’s the narrowing of options that defines us. Perhaps it’s our behavior within this world we’ve chosen that is the mark of who we are. Our choices are now more subtle, more nuanced, more riddled with complexity – and probably more significant. That’s exciting.

Sometimes when we look in the mirror, we can’t help but long for those real or imagined “glory days.” If I had it to do over, boy would I apply sunscreen! But the physical aging is also a gift. It reminds us of where we are and where we’ve been, not just what we’ve done but what we can still do.

Although we can’t go back in time, Yom Kippur was a do-over of sorts, a chance to remake ourselves in the ways that really count and to make future choices that reflect wisdom and thoughtfulness and depth of character and, dare I say it, age! I think that, with the right attitude, our glory days are not behind us but yet to come!

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