“Being Enough”

“Being Enough” - Rosh Hashana 5778

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio

Robert Perks watched as a distinguished looking older gentlemen and a younger woman stood at the airport gate waiting for the plane to board. An announcement came over the loudspeaker and she hugged him, a tight embrace, they pulled back and looked into each others’ tear-filled eyes.

The man said: “I love you, I wish you enough”

The woman said: “Daddy, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough too Daddy.” They hugged one more time and she left.

The man stood by the window, staring at the plane and Robert stood beside him.

“Have you ever said goodbye to someone, knowing it would be forever?”

“Yes,” Robert said, remembering his last visit with his dying father, trying hard to make sure he said everything he wanted to say to him. “Forgive me for asking,” Bob said, “but why is this a forever goodbye?”

“I am old, I have some big challenges ahead of me and she lives so far away, the next time she will be back here will be for my funeral.”

“When you were saying goodbye, you said “I wish you enough” what does that mean?”

The man smiled through his tears, “that is a wish which has been handed down in my family from generation to generation. My parents used to say it to everyone when we said “I wish you enough” we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough, then he recited the following:

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all you possess
I wish you enough “hellos” to get you through the final goodbye [1]

I wish you enough. How many of us feel that we have enough that we are enough? So often we are challenged to aim high, think big, be the best. We are told that we can be anyone we want to be, that we must reach for the stars and work hard and if we do our dreams will come true. But for how many of us is that not true? How many of us strive and work and try but we still don’t reach our goals, don’t achieve all that we hope and dream? How many of us sit here today and think about our litany of failures and feel defeated, deflated, not good enough? How many of us feel that we are not enough? That we should be bigger, better, more successful, more brilliant, more wonderful? I imagine many of us.

We are constantly being told that we must aim for success, that we must be better, faster, richer and the only thing holding us back is us, but we are being fed a lie, it is not the truth of anyone’s life and all it does is leave us feeling inadequate and alone. We look at each other’s social media and we see happy faces doing fabulous things which often don’t reflect the reality of people’s lives. I remember seeing photos posted on the internet of a friend of mine’s holiday. The pictures were set in an idyllic location: white sands, impossibly blue ocean. She was holding cocktails, smiling as if she had no cares in the world. When she returned I said “wow what an amazing trip you had, it looked incredible!” she looked at me with such sadness and said “it was the worst holiday of my life. I was so lonely and unhappy.” Behind the perfect façade was heartache, pain and struggle.

Jon Ronson said about the early days of twitter, that facebook was where we go to lie to our friends and twitter was the place we went to tell the truth to strangers. Twitter changed and now unfortunately we no longer have a place to tell the truth. And it seems that even when we experience defeats or don’t achieve, we want to be the best at defeat, the most fabulous underachiever. We are overachieving underachieving. There is competition and judgement even with our failures and our faults.

It is hard to fight against the messages, the constant barrage of positivity. We need to understand to and feel that we are enough, who we are is enough and sometimes we need to see the truth in our world rather than the façade. Everyone struggles, everyone has moments of sadness, regret, shame. We are all broken vessels yet around us we find motivational speeches and messages constantly telling us that we are not enough.

Your only limit is you
Don’t limit your challenges challenge your limits
When you want to succeed as badly as you want to breathe then you will be successful
Believe you can and you are half way there
Push harder than yesterday if you want a different tomorrow

But perhaps instead of motivational speeches, phrases which make us feel inadequate what we need is acceptance of who we are, honesty about our truths, to understand that even though we may not be the best, the brightest, the most wonderful, we are enough.
Jane Caro writes about attending one of the many motivational evenings for women to which is she often invited. She said “some glamorous young thing (or impressively successful older thing) stands on a stage and tells an audience of women struggling with their real lives that they just need to believe they are fabulous, amazing special for the good life to fall open at their feet. It isn’t true but worse it makes every woman in the audience secretly feel a little fatter, uglier, dowdier and less adequate than she did before. And it implies that any failures you experience are your own fault…we are all flawed, insecure, tired, self indulgent often bewildered human beings who mostly struggle to stay on top of the demands of every day life and that is ok. You don’t have to be fabulous it is fine to just be human.”[2]

We need only to strive to be human, to be who we are, not to be perfect always happy versions of ourselves. George Orwell said: “an autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” [3]

Being human is enough. On Rosh Hashana, as we gather in the synagogue we would imagine our Torah and haftarah readings to be inspirational, chosen for their perfection, for the stories of greatness and yet we don’t read such stories. Instead we read about Abraham and his dysfunctional family. We struggle with his cruelty to Hagar and his own son Ishmael as he banishes them to the desert to die. We grapple with Sarah’s anger and hatred towards Hagar, her jealousy and rage, ordering her husband to send them to the wilderness, cut off from family, community, life. We read about Hannah and her humiliation, the spiteful judgement and barbs made towards her by Eli the priest. The holy man acting in a manner which was unholy. All our heroes in Judaism are flawed broken human beings struggling to do the best they can. Even Moses of whom we are told is the greatest prophet that ever lived or will live is far from perfect. He abandons his family in favour of leading the community, he reacts in anger to disappointments and when others do not meet his high expectations for them. He smashes the tablets from God, he hits the rock, he becomes frustrated, he does not realize his dream to enter the Promised Land. Failure is a part of who we are, it is human and we are not called upon to be perfect, to be the best, to be wholly wonderful all the time, we are asked to embrace who we are and to feel that we are enough.

There is a story in the tradition of a man called Zuzya. He was dying and he was sobbing and unhappy. His friend tried to comfort him, he asked him Zuzya, what is wrong? He answered I am worried because soon I will be standing before the gates of heaven and I will be asked why I was not as great as Moses, why I did not reach the heights of success of all the great rabbis and what shall I say? I have failed, I have not been good enough.” His friend replied “Zuzya, dear beautiful Zuzya, when you reach the gates of heaven you will not be asked why you were not as great as Moses, you will be asked if you were the best Zuzya you could be. Zuzya, being you is enough.”

Today as we gather for Rosh Hashana we are not asked if we were as great as Moses, but whether we were enough. And it is enough to be who we are. I am often struck by the fact that the most beautiful, poignant and special eulogies that I have heard or deliver are for people whose family members begin by saying, “my father was a simple man, he did not do great things on the world stage but he was a good father, a kind man, a person who lived a humble life and blessed his family.” or “my mother did not really do much in her life except care for us, she devoted herself to our family and she was always there for us. She listened and guided and cooked her love into every meal.” “my sister did not achieve great things in her life, she worked hard, gave her time to others, was always there whenever people needed her.” “my grandfather was nothing special, he loved his garden, enjoyed growing beautiful flowers and then giving them to others. He always had time for people.” The greatest people are often those who live their lives true to who they are, loving and caring for the people around them not winning awards, prizes, certificates, standing on daises but rather those who are enough, who care for and love the people around them, who experience the sunshine and allow the rain to help them appreciate the sun, who find balance and success in being who we are. 

Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui wrote a beautiful post titled “what if all I want is a mediocre life? She writes “What if all I want is a slow, simple life?...what if I am mediocre and I choose to be at peace with that? …am I simply not enough?

What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up beyond mum, sister and wife. But these people in my primary circle of impact know they are loved…can that be enough?

What if I never build an orphanage in Africa but send bags of groceries to people here and there…offer small gifts to the world and let that be enough

What if I don’t want to write a cookbook or build a six figure business or speak before thousands. But I write because I have something to say …

What if I am a mediocre home manager who rarely dusts…and makes real food but sometimes orders pizza…

What if I embrace my limitations and stop railing against them. Make peace with who I am…accept that all I really want is a slow, simple life, a mediocre life. A beautiful, quiet, gentle life. I think that is enough.” [4]

We need to give ourselves permission to say: “I am enough.” Matthew O’ Reilly is an EMT specialist he has been a first responder at many tragic accidents and natural disasters. Early in his career he responded to a call, a woman in her late 50s was trapped in a car. As the fire department worked to free her Matthew climbed in beside her. They talked and she said “There was so much more I wanted to do with my life.” She felt she had not left her mark, she had not done enough. They talked some more and she told him she was the mother of two adopted children both of whom were in medical school. Matthew said “because of her two children had a chance they would never have had otherwise and would go on to save lives as doctors.” She was enough. The woman died before she could be freed but she knew in those moments her seemingly simple, unremarkable life had meaning, she was more than enough and she died at peace. [5]

Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care and spent her days tending to the needs of the dying. John was one of her clients. He did not have long to live and he said one day, out of the blue “I wish I had not worked so hard Bronnie. What a stupid fool I was.” He went on to tell her about Margaret his wife and how she wanted to travel, explore the world, spend time together. He shared her dream but felt they had time, he wanted to work just a little bit more, gather a little more money and then he would retire and they would travel. He admitted that the he also did not want to give up the status work gave him, he wanted to be better, achieve more. One evening his wife looked at him with tears in her eyes and begged him to retire. In that moment he saw her loneliness, her aching to be with him, she had waited so patiently and for the first time he realized that they were not going to live forever, he would retire. “one more year.” He said, and then I will stop. Margaret began to make plans and John kept working. With eight months to go until his retirement Margaret started to feel unwell, she had some tests, she was dying. Margaret died three months before John was due to retire, although he had stopped work to care for her. Now John was dying filled with regret, he said, “I was scared, my role had come to define me…now as I sit here dying I see that just being a good person is enough in life…the chase for more, the need to be recognized through our achievements and our belongings can hinder us from the real things, like time with those we love, time doing things we love for ourselves and balance.”[6] John realized too late that he was enough just being himself, loving those around him and being there for them.

This time of Rosh Hashana calls on us to see and realize now that we are enough, to know that all that is asked of us is that we strive to do our best, that we are true to who we are, that we nurture the beauty within us and celebrate who we are, even when we are not the greatest, the best, the biggest, the most, as long as we are the greatest us, that is enough. So this Rosh Hashana I wish you enough.

 

[1] Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul pg. 192

[2] “Absolutely Not Fabulous” Jane Caro Sunday Life “Life Matters” July 30 2017

[3] Moth book 50% kindle

[4] Krista O’Reilly Davi-Digui blog A life in Progress: “What if all I want is a mediocre life?”

[5] Matthew O’Reilly, “’Am I Dying?’: the Honest Answer.” TED talk 

[6] Bronnie Ware: Five Regrets of the Dying pg 72-74

Join Our Community

Join Our Community

Established in 1938, Emanuel Synagogue is a pluralist community affiliated with the Masorti, Progressive and Renewal movements. We offer a variety of services, programs and activities. We welcome you to join us.

Become a Member
Stay connected to our community!
  • Linkedin page