On Sunday, the weather was so beautiful that I decided it would be a great day to clean all of my outdoor furniture and prepare my backyard for the warm weather. My backyard is a very serene and tranquil setting. It’s a perfect place for entertaining guests, sitting with my morning coffee, reading and writing, or simply relaxing.
I put on rubber gloves, filled a bucket with Pine-Sol, pulled out a scrub brush and hose and got “down to business.”
I started to scrub the glass-topped patio table, when suddenly, without any warning, the top shattered into thousands of little pieces. Thankfully, the thick rubber gloves kept my hands from being cut by the shards of glass.
The shock of this unexpected “bang” momentarily stopped me stunned in my tracks. I stood there just staring at the table and the ground for a moment. And then I realized that the glass must have suffered a hairline crack from the harshness of the winter. Thankfully, it shattered while I was cleaning, and not when I had a houseful of guests sitting there eating.
The rest of my day was spent cleaning up the broken glass and trying to restore order to the patio.
None of this is tragic. It was simply a table-top that shattered. A table can be easily replaced.
But I realized that the unexpected way the glass shattered – from right under my very hands – is a metaphor for the fragility of life.
Our lives can shatter in an instant, just as the glass shattered so quickly, without warning.
Over the past few weeks we have witnessed this with the terrible earthquakes in Nepal, the Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia: life was normal one minute and irrevocably shattered the next.
Each of us has our own story: a spouse suddenly announces they want a divorce, or a loved one is diagnosed with some dreaded illness, or some devastating event shatters our world. One moment all seemed fine. And then, everything changed in an instant. Our world was turned upside down without any notice.
We might be paralyzed in our tracks by the shock of what just took place.
How do we continue? Where do we find the strength to pick up the pieces?
We gather strength from community, from the loving embrace of family and friends.
We can dull the sharp pain of the edges of broken shards when we reach out in love and support to those who are suffering, whether by word or deed, whether by offering a loving touch or just offering to sit in quiet companionship. We can be God’s hands, slowly but surely sweeping up the broken pieces and helping to restore life to a new sense of “normal.”
“May we gain wisdom in our lives
overflowing like a river of understanding.
Loved, each of us, for the peace we bring to others.
May our deeds exceed our speech,
and may we never lift up our hand
but to conquer fear and doubt and despair.
Rise up like the sun, O God, over all humanity.
Cause light to go forth over all the lands between the seas.
And light up the universe with joy
of wholeness, of freedom. and of peace.”
(Mishkan T’filah, A Reform Siddur, pg. 287, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2007, New York.)