"Complete Control Matters." Read the poster at the Chicago airport. The copywriters know their audience because I suspect this belief in complete control is one many of us hold. And it is certainly one we desire. We want to be in complete control. Show no weakness. No fear. And stand as the rugged individualist in complete control of our emotions, our world and our destiny. We want to be gods while at the same time being atheists or at least agnostic -- to hedge our bet.
I noticed this poster because I had been reflecting on how little control we actually have in our lives and that we would do well to practice letting go -- to cultivate a ferocious surrender. Surrender to our mistakes, surrender to life's fragility and surrender to the people around us -- complete surrender to the many things well beyond our control. There is freedom in owning this truth. Owning the fact that we can be very good at making a mess of things and very bad at admitting it. Accept the reality that we really do care even if we may pretend we don't. And there is no value in denying that we don't hurt. It may hollow us out but it expands our souls and makes us more human. Sadness is part of the dues we pay for a life well lived. And while it is painful and we have to mourn those losses and learn from them, ultimately we have to let go of them -- integrate them. How do we become more whole? By learning that we are all broken.
There is an insect that lives in many rivers called a Caddis Fly. On a fishing trip in Idaho my guide began a meditation about his struggles with God and religion. I said I agreed with him. And then said I was a rabbi. Apparently he had never been fly fishing with a rabbi. And I told him there probably weren't many of us. But it opened up a conversation about the theology of fishing, the wilderness and the Caddis Fly. During its larval stage the Caddis Fly collects grains of sand and creates a stone cocoon around itself. What starts as a shelter becomes a fortress and ultimately many live and die encased inside their pebble tombs.
We do the same thing. Year by year, stone by stone, fear by fear, we gradually build our own crypts in the name of self preservation or the desire to have complete control. The commentator Sefat Emet writes that upon each of our hearts God engraves the word "Life." Over the course of our years the engraving gets covered with grit and dirt until the word is lost.
Anyone who has ever been in love has learned that the only way to fall in love is to surrender and relinquish control to another. To step, maybe tentatively at first, maybe courageously, from behind our walls and into love's insecurity. One of the lessons I learned in falling in love was that the cave I built and used to retreat to when feeling vulnerable or fearful suddenly had my wife in it. And that when our children were born the entire cave was torn away and I had to get used to my heart and soul walking around outside my body in the form of a four-year old and seven-year old. And the four-year old seems to have no fear, and does things that give him big scars and scares the hell out of me -- watching my son racing down the sidewalk behind his brother and stumbling grips my heart. But I know it is his job to fall and my job to help him back up again, so he can fall again. And I can pick him up again. It is our job as well -- to fall and help each other up.
And often late at night when I can't sleep, I find myself thinking of all the things that are going wrong in the world. The wars, the horrible things we do to each other. The mistakes I have made, the bad decisions. That's when, completely awake now, I usually crawl out of bed, look in at my sleeping children, and hope to God they can hold on to their innocence. And then I start responding to work emails because I want an empty in-box -- something I still believe I can control.
Many of us still haven't learned that we can't have an empty in-box and that we need to give up control to fall in love. By surrendering to another our lives can expand. By letting go we may feel free. On the seventh day, our Creator did not just rest, the Holy One let go. "And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God stopped from all the work of creation." It was God's final and perhaps most important lesson to us. There is a time to let go. With the Sabbath this idea was embedded into the very fabric of Jewish existence. Stop trying to control everything and make it perfect. Even God never said things were perfect. All God said was, it is very good -- there is a difference. We are obsessive perfectionists, maybe God isn't. Consider the platypus.
Letting go is a trait I am committed to cultivating. The vulnerability of acknowledging what is already true. That in admitting I don't have much control of anything really, I can let go of the stress and anxiety that block me from experiencing the beauty in life. And that faith is what I really have. A faith in those around me and that even when things are scary and it appears the world is crumbling it rarely stays that way. Our lives and our souls naturally gravitate toward the light. Toward life. Thya h'matim the revival of the dead. The revival of hope. Of possibility. Of redemption.
I want to remember the exhilaration and peace of giving up control -- of surrendering. Surrender is the ultimate act of faith. At once a faith in the world around us, the people around us and faith in some Higher Order in the world -- call it God, physics or chance. I call it God. It is also very good practice for dying -- the final life lesson and the ultimate surrender. Our Sages comment that when we are born our fists our clenched and when we die they open. If we haven't learned it in life we learn it with our deaths. What would it be like to live with our fists unclenched, our stone walls torn down? The words "Life" emblazoned clearly on our hearts -- living lightly with ferocious surrender. Taking emotional risks in the name of life. In the name of love.