Unfinished business from Sinai until now

By Debbi K. Levy

When singer Billy Joel came to Dallas a few months ago, I had to be there. It was my chance to hear “Vienna,” which the New York Times cited in 2008 as one of Billy Joel’s two favorite songs. Written by Joel, both the lyrics and melody feel as if someone got a little too close to my North Star and exposed my own confidential hurried life path.

“Dream on but don’t imagine they’ll all come true.”

“But why not?” the urgency of my heart shouts back! I am pretty sure I can make it all happen, if I stay the course and keep my head down.

This urgency is not new for me. I have been striving for some years now, but lately reflecting on the feelings that accompanied my 50th birthday, along with the awareness that if age 50 is my halfway mark (I am trying to get to 100 with great intentionality), then I have got to squeeze in all those dreams more quickly and, certainly, more efficiently.

I am currently reading a new book, “Roctogenarians,” by authors Mo Rocca and Jonathan Greenberg. In a radio interview just last week, I heard Rocca respond to the question of why he most enjoyed interviewing older people as opposed to younger people. Rocca explained that older people are especially interesting because they have “unfinished business.” I find myself utterly fascinated by this concept, fervently nodding my head in approval and saying aloud, “Yes, yes!” I devour the new bestseller and count myself among those individuals interviewed and researched who follow their dreams and demands of unfinished business. I validate my urges to do more and dream bigger alongside my new favorite book while I hum “Vienna.” So many kavanot (sacred intentions) are coming together in the person I most want to be in this very moment. If only that little speck of dread could just quiet itself and exit my body.

I need to separate the tangled threads I am finding in this tension — that little speck of dread and the robust desire to “do.” I want to talk with a wise leader, someone who could guide me through a Jewish lens and help me move toward fulfilling ambitious dreams, but within the boundaries of the physical and the humble limitations that often complicate a balanced life. I gather up my Tanakh and reread the chapters of Deuteronomy for clues.

Moses’ lengthy farewell speech speaks of his life path of service filled to the brim with tasks and complicated assignments, but also containing a finite ending. A realization for both Moses and the Israelites that no one apart from the Divine can fulfill limitless dreams and objectives is unveiled. A new leader and inheritor of new dreams is named. I reflect upon the truth that even our greatest prophet Moses was boundaried in the limits of his seasons, 120 to be exact. Although mortality is often sobering, I ask myself, “Can it also be a comfort?” Does Moses, in the verses of Deuteronomy, announce to the community of the Israelites that Joshua will lead them across the Jordan River to teach those very laws that outline the human condition of humble limits? I sleep on the words contained in those potent verses. I newly ponder my (perhaps unnecessary?) rush in striving and all the intense doing. Circling back to the song “Vienna,” my least favorite line comes to mind:

“You’re so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need.”

Sigh. I put aside my unfinished business and leash up my dog Nala for a leisurely walk with Barry.

Kohenet Debbi K. Levy is enthusiastic about your feedback and discussions and welcomes them in-person and at debbiklevy@gmail.com.

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