18 summers

This past weekend I was booked to officiate a wedding. The day before I got an urgent call asking if I could come a few hours earlier to the hospital because the bride’s father is in cancer care and, unexpectedly, is now too sick to attend the wedding. I had just been away at a Rabbis Without Borders retreat, and was excited to spend the day with my kids. It was one of those moments when I had to explain to my kids, in the words of my colleague Rabbi Eva, that although they were more important to me than my clients, this time the clients were more urgent.

Also this past week, I had reserved a little island of time for myself on a Sunday night, feeling desperate for a break, when I got a call to meet with a family planning a funeral. Their mother had a scheduled physical-assisted death and they needed to plan the funeral quickly, even though she was still alive.

These moments represented two instances when I made the choice to sacrifice my own time for rest and rejuvenation because what was being asked of me was more important. I’m sharing the story with you with the details of my own desire for a break not because I wish to be the centre of this story — I’m not the centre; two people with cancer and their families are the centre — but because I wish to highlight that sometimes serving others requires sacrifice. I was tired. I was wanting time with my kids. But I showed up for these people anyway because, in my view, that’s what Humanists do: we show up for people in need.

The flip side is that I really believe we need healthy and appropriate boundaries, including time that we protect and reserve for those closest to us. As you know, I have young kids, and I recently saw an online photo saying “we only get eighteen summers with our kids.” It really hit home! Summer is the time when many of us spend time away with family — at a cottage, in the place where we grew up, etc. It is a time when many of us have fewer work obligations and so we do get a chance to recharge. I want that for you this summer. I want you to figure out who and what are most important to you and make sure you devote them some time.

How do we strike the right balance between protecting time for ourselves and our priorities, and ensuring we are there for those who need us? Many of you are caring for others, be they aging parents, children, and members of your community. How will you recharge so you can best serve them, while still ensuring their needs are met? That’s really my question of summer. I plan to ruminate on that as the lead-up to the High Holidays when we ask ourselves who we wish to be in the coming year. I want to be someone who serves others. I want to be someone who is attentive and present with my family. I want to be someone who has boundaries that are porous enough to make exceptions for emergencies but solid enough that they are meaningful. Are you with me? What are you going to focus on this summer?