Have you said everything that needs to be said to your loved ones? All the “I love you’s”, all the words they need to hear to be able to move on in peace? Have you heard the words you need to hear? Have you honored, hugged, kissed, cuddled, taught, learned, blessed the people who mean the most to you? Are you sure they know what they need to know?
In this week’s torah portion, the last one in Genesis, Jacob tells each of his sons about their past and their future. Some are glorious and loving and gentle, and some read almost like curses. But Jacob is trying to pack all those thoughts into one last moment with his boys, who will become the leaders of our twelve tribes.
Jacob’s parenting always seemed to be less than ideal; favoritism, timidity, angry outbursts, divisions between the children of each mother. At the same time, it is clear he was paying attention to them. He just waited until his deathbed to say what needed to be said.
We don’t need to do that. We can seize any moment—and every moment—to let our loved ones know they are loved. We can say “Good night and I love you.” We can say, “Good morning and I love you.” We can say, “So nice to see you and I love you.” Or “Safe journey, and by the way, I love you.”
We do not have to wait until our deathbed or theirs, or wait until it’s too late. We can do it any time before. Because we never know when it will be too late. The leukemia diagnosis. The car accident or plane crash or pneumonia. We just don’t know.
A friend was describing her frustration at her daughter’s long term procrastination, that, this time, might sink a wonderful project she is involved in. As we talked, I heard every mother’s frustration with our children not getting the message we hoped to instill, and yet thought that this might be the perfect learning experience for her daughter. After all, if her procrastination had the anticipated effect on the project, she might learn from it (because she is a very smart young woman). If it didn’t, she might still recognize the importance of better planning. And nothing her mother could say at this point will instill the message as forcefully as experience.
But as she spoke, I thought of a project I am involved in: a collection of “Letters to Our Daughters—Recipes for Life”: mothers sharing their “inspired wisdom” as our daughters move through life. I’ve written my letter (at least the first draft), reminding my wonderful daughter that she is made b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the Holy, and needs to remind herself 1) that she deserves to be treated as though she has that divine spark and therefore no one should abuse her; 2) everyone else—everyone else—deserves the same from her and others and 3) because we are in the image of holiness, we must act as we think holiness should act… My beloved daughter already embodies many of those holy acts and treats most people incredibly lovingly, and I pray she especially “gets” the first of the lessons.
I encourage you to write your letter to your daughter or son or spouse or sibling or parent today. Don’t wait. Really.
[Thanks to Reb Irwin Keller for inspiring me on this topic.]