09/07/2012 02:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Peter Yarrow's Jewel Of Elul: Get Rid Of The Goat

Editor's note: There is a great Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days in the month of Elul to study and prepare for the coming high holy days. The time is supposed to challenge us to use each day as an opportunity for growth and discovery. On each of the 29 days of Elul, performer Craig Taubman posts a "jewel," or story, from some of today's most celebrated visionaries. Past contributors include President Barack Obama, Desmond Tutu, Mary J Blige, Eli Wiesel, The Dali Lama, Rabbi Ruth Messinger Lady Gaga, among many others. Today's reflection comes from Peter Yarrow.

I have gained perspective on the art of aging over the last decade of my 
74 years. The gift of perspective is, in a word, “gratitude” -- the conceit that my cup is half full, and each day more and more so.

Years ago, my life was filled with excitement, wonderment and adventure, but also beset with varying degrees of anxiety about what tomorrow might bring. Now, I truly pass my days without such concern, and with few lapses, I feel grateful for what I have, for those I love, for work that satisfies –- and, happily, the focus of my life is all about tikkun olam, repairing the world.

Is my life different now from the way it once was? Not really. But the shift in the angle of the glass, the tilt of the reflection that has reframed my perspective, has made an inestimable difference.

I’m reminded of the lesson of the goat: A rabbi is consulted by a man who proclaims that his life has fallen apart. “My wife hates me, my children disobey me, I can’t pay my bills, no one respects me.” The rabbi solemnly counsels the man, “Buy a goat and live with it for a month -– in the house –- and then we’ll talk.” The man obeys the rabbi. Soon the goat has chewed his clothes, eaten his food and done his business on the carpet. Chaos reigns. Desperate, the man returns to the rabbi and throws himself on the rabbi’s mercy. “What should I do?” he wails. “Get rid of the goat,” says the rabbi calmly. One month later the man returns. He fairly shouts to the rabbi that he’s the luckiest person in the world, proclaiming to all in the shtetl that the rabbi is a genius.

What’s the gift of aging? Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get rid of the goat.

Peter Yarrow is a political activist and the Peter of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.

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