When I was a college student, I read the words of Koheleth: "A time to speak and a time to refrain from speaking; a time to laugh and a time to weep," as very distinct and separate times.
It did not occur to me then that life would demand weeping and rejoicing, dancing and quiet all in the same day or moment. But the years have taught me life is not a linear line, but much more like a wavy line on a healthy patient's heart monitor. Every emotion and every "season" may be present at the same time; and we are called upon to deal with all of them as best we can.
Last weekend, Shirley and I were visiting with our daughter, grandson Max and their Israeli exchange student, Tomer. (Our granddaughter and her dad were away for the weekend). The days were filled with laughter and joy as Max regaled us with his newly perfected accents and dialects. Any occasion, even simply asking that the TV channel be changed, brought forth another flurry of accents and humorous explanations why the channel could not be changed without significant dialogue.
Shirley remarked she had not laughed so hard for months. It was a time to laugh and a time to rejoice. In the midst of this revelry, I checked my cell phone and found a message informing me that a dear friend was in the final stages of dying. His son had asked if I could stop by to see his dad.
I quickly called the son, also a wonderful friend, and told him we were out of town but would be back by Monday night. We would plan to see them Monday evening. While I was on the phone, Max and Tomer were wrestling and Shirley was preparing for the day. When she came downstairs, I told her about the phone call and we both expressed sadness and concern.
I offered a silent prayer and asked God to give comfort and compassion to my dying friend and to take him into God's innermost heart. Shirley and I hugged and moved into the other room to join the raucous laughter.
In front of me was the fullness of life in Max and Tomer squealing with joy and love. Next to me was Shirley, who, more than any other person I know can live every possible moment with optimism; and across the room was my oldest daughter, delighting in her lumbering, ever-creative 13-year-old son.
I had choices to make about how I would experience the rest of my time with my family: to stay in the present with them or to begin making mental notes for a eulogy. I could not forget my dying friend and his family. But I would not give up the joy that was present and invited me in. I chose to live with the necessary tension between "a time to rejoice and a time to refrain from rejoicing."
I share this not because I feel I have accomplished something unusual; but because I was more aware of the normal ebb and flow of joy and sadness and how they are inextricably intertwined. Every moment is filled with more than itself and it is shaped by a past and itself shapes a future moment.
On Monday evening, Shirley and I visited our friend, shared blessings and prayers, told him of our love for him and kissed him before we left his room to visit with his adult children. There we also found ourselves speaking seriously and joyously as we made plans for a funeral that would occur in the near future. We all embraced one another and went back to the other tasks and joys of life.
There is a time for every experience under heaven. And many of them come at the same time. Life is not a straight line from birth to death. It is a winding road with uncharted hills and curves. We can travel that road with good companions and an open heart. We will be hurt along the way; but we will also be profoundly blessed.
Dr. Albert M. Lewis is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth El in Traverse City. He is a public speaker and author of "Soul Sounds: Reflections on Life," available at www.soulsoundsbook.com. Contact him through the Record-Eagle, 120 W. Front, Traverse City, MI 49684.