A few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to deliver the commencement address at a Failure Graduation. It opened with this line from Proverbs, "A righteous person falls down seven times, and then, gets up." That day, I shared my own narrative around failure, and how those experiences helped to make me into the person I am today. My remarks concluded with the following charge:
You are hereby authorized to screw up, bomb, or fail at one or more relationships, friendships, texts, exams, social media interactions, presentations, interviews, auditions, diets, extracurriculars, resolutions, or any other choice associated with life ... and still be a totally worthy, utterly excellent, human being.
All these words I still hold to be true. And in reflecting on that Failure Graduation address, I’ve also come to realize that each time we fail is as important as every time we thrive. That challenges stretch us, and opportunities help us grow. That moving out of our comfort zone helps open a world of wonder and magic we likely couldn’t have imagined if we simply stayed put.
Perhaps most of all, as we navigate through each day - the twists and turns, the delights and fears, relationships, school, work, life, friends and family, through laughter and tears, in joy and in sorrow, every moment of every day is a gift. And each experience you have is unique in the world because you are in it. Experiences would not have been the same if you were not there. Tonight, would not be the same if you weren’t here. I want you to think about owning this moment as we embark upon Rosh Hashanah. Because it’s uniquely yours, and ours. Let’s all take a collective deep breath to honor this moment of being together.
We are each responsible for our own journey. We own it. However, when we think about ownership, it’s often about possessions. I’d like to suggest we pivot and think about owning who we each are. It’s the journey we are each on that creates the narrative of our own lives. We make choices – some are good, some not so much. Regardless, we should own them. We engage in all kinds of relationships, and sometimes they fail. Growth comes from owning our part and learning from it. Sometimes we do things that make us in retrospect think, “why in the world did I do that”? Owning it builds character.
I have a handful of core principles that are fundamentally important to me. One of them is this:
“Every one is the most important person in the world to someone. Maybe they know it, maybe they don’t. Treat each person with the highest levels of respect always. You never know when the next person you meet may become the most important person in the world to you.”
I also believe this statement to be true. And, I realize that this is about how we treat other people. I’m not so sure that I treat myself with that level of thoughtfulness, intentionality, inclusion, and love. Why is it that we are better at taking care of each other than we are at taking care of ourselves? ‘Owning it’ is all about our relationship with our self. Perhaps the hardest thing to internalize, recognize, and actualize is knowing that who I am, who we are, in each moment, is exactly who we need.
Pre-pandemic, I used to travel a lot. On a flight to Israel in 2019, I watched and fell in love with the movie “The Shape of Water.” There is a quote at the end of the movie that deeply resonated with me. “Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love, it humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.”
While the quote is about a love story between a human and an amphibious creature, these words resonate with me about the relationship between Hillel, and the humans who breathe life into it every day. Over the summer, it was quiet, serene, and tranquil. And this building was just a physical space. I would walk up and down the hallway, and that is exactly when I could feel your presence everywhere. Images in my mind of friends studying in the library. The sweet sounds of your singing on Shabbat. I think about the passion that many of you brought to the Jewish Learning Fellowship. I could smell the sweet smells coming from the kitchen, where so many of us prepare food with love and care. I’m able to look back at the lighter side of meetings in my ‘other’ office, running out of lox at Bagel Break, and my shpilkies about AEPi handing out bids in the basement. I thought about your smiles and stories, your tears and tales. And I thought to myself, I hope they each know how important they are. I hope they know how much they are loved for exactly who they are when they are here. And, I want to be sure to tell them this on Rosh Hashanah.
Life can be really hard. We all have self-doubt. We all fail. We all make bad choices. We also each contribute to creating a more whole and compassionate world. We share the best of ourselves with one another. And we strive to be the best versions of ourselves. And all these pieces happen when we own our journey – every aspect of it – the good and the bad, the joy and the grief, the smiles and the tears. It works when we own it.
So I wrote a blessing for self-care about Owning It, and I want to share it with you.
You are each uniquely you, and I feel so blessed that you are here. You belong to this community, you belong to a lineage of people who have called this place home, you belong because of everything that makes you unique, and you belong here, now.
And you are not alone – your journey is complex and becomes more complete every day because of the story of your life that you are writing. You can hold growth and struggle and have compassion and kindness for yourself all at the same time. This is the beauty of Rosh Hashanah. A time to reflect, to repair, and to resolve.
For all you are, for all that you have ever been, and for who you are in this very moment, and who you will become, Kabalah Atzmit. Own it. Shana tova, wishing each of you the sweetest new year.
Melissa Frey | Executive Director, Purdue Hillel
Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5783
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