At our annual meeting I began my report with the famous opening line from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom it was the age of foolishness…”
The last year has lived up to that characterization, presenting challenges to our congregation that are similar to the job-related financial challenges faced by so many folks all across the country, including many in our own community. I closed my report by saying:
“On a personal note, I’ve looked long and hard into the face of a crucial decision about retirement. Three years ago I reported on my Parkinson’s diagnosis, indicating that my hope was to be able to work for five more years. That original plan calls for two more years, and I see no reason to change it. Of course the sword of Damocles hangs precariously over my head – it gets my attention, but it does not distract from my work. On the contrary, in intensifies whatever time remains for me.”
Some interpreted that statement as ‘naming a date’ for leaving, so I explained that it was not my intention, at this time, to name a date. The idea of five more years came from the initial conversation with my neurologist when he gave me the diagnosis. Knowing that he had served as president of his synagogue, I said, “So, your rabbi comes to you and says, ‘I have Parkinson’s,’ how do you respond?”
I would say, “Tell me when you can’t do your work.” I ask, “How long do you think that will be for me?” He answers my question with another question: “How long would you like it to be?” Thinking of the expected date of Carlyn’s college graduation, I say, “Five years.” He responds, “That shouldn’t be a problem.”
I knew, of course, that there would be some members of the congregation who would be uncomfortable – visible signs of a life-threatening illness raises the underlying anxiety we all have about our own health and well-being.
Conversations I had with Christopher Reeve came to mind. On more than one occasion he talked to me about his being cast in the role of hero, not by his memorable screen role as Superman, but by living in a wheel chair and serving as a role model for doing the best you can in the face of the challenge of being a quadriplegic. He said, “I certainly don’t think of myself as a hero – I’m just doing what I need to do.”
A couple of times I asked Chris to contact recent quadriplegics to give them some inspiration and support. I learned that part of his daily routine was to make these calls. I’m not comparing myself with Chris, of course. The point is that we play the cards we’re dealt.
Our congregation is thriving, in spite of the hard times – ‘the worst of times.’ We share an important, effective ministry – in many ways it’s ‘the best of times’ for us. I’m glad to be here, and as I said at the annual meeting, when I’m ready to take my leave you’ll be the first to know.