My friend Neal passed away not so long ago.
We weren’t especially close. But we would cross paths from time to time, always pausing to exchange a few meaningful words. The quality of those fleeting conversations more than compensated for their lack of frequency.
I felt that, in another life, Neal and I might have been much closer. I sensed that he possessed a spirit similar to my own, yet the currents of time and space conspired to keep us at arm’s length.
Shortly after his death, his daughter told me that the family had been sorting through his personal effects. They found on his desk a paper tray containing only four articles, which he had set aside, apparently, because of their particular significance to him.
One of them was a brief reflection I had posted online the year before.
It’s both inspiring and unsettling to consider the impact our words can have, how a casually articulated remark or idea might implant itself into the heart of another, for better or for worse.
So choose your words carefully. Words give form to thoughts, and thoughts are the means through which we let others inside ourselves. If well-directed, an articulated thought can spark the beginnings of love and light, of faithfulness and devotion.
Here are the words that found their way into Neal’s heart. I hope that they continue to resonate within in his soul.
My son told me this morning that, as he was beginning his training in the IDF special forces, he met a soldier who was just finishing his service in the same unit, the Gadsar Reconnaissance Division of the Nahal Brigade.
“I envy you,” said the retiring warrior. “And I feel sorry for you.
“I envy you for the incredible experience you’re about to have. And I feel sorry for you because it will be harder than you can imagine.”
My son’s brief recollection immediately brought to mind a vision of two souls, one descending from on high to take its place inside a newborn child, the other departing this world on the way to receive its eternal reward.
As they pass, the ascending soul says to the one about to enter the material world, “I envy you. And I feel sorry for you.
“I envy you for the joy you will find serving the Master of the Universe, a joy that I will never know again now that my time on earth is over. And I feel sorry for you, for you have no idea how difficult it will be for you to remember who you are and what your purpose is amidst so much pain and confusion.”
The more we seek to avoid pain, the more we deprive ourselves of the inner pleasure that is the source of true happiness. The more we rise to meet the obstacles and challenges that confront us, the more we find joy in this world and make ourselves deserving of the pleasure that awaits us once our time here has passed.