What have I accomplished today?

When they said goodbye to this earth, most of my female relatives were younger than I am today! Now, I’m well into my personal 80s, which gives me both pause and this question: Have I been put here, and granted life here, for so long, to accomplish something I’m meant to do but haven’t done yet? And if so: How will I recognize that “something” when it finally comes along?

To help me figure out the above: I’ve pasted a little personal message onto my coffee pot, which I’m sure to look at many times a day, and so becomes the last thing I read before going to bed at night: “What have you accomplished today?” And it shames me when I must answer my own question with “Not very much…”

The above thoughts all came with my very current realization that some others are keeping better track of my age than I am. The latest has just arrived from the headquarters of my college sorority, still soldiering happily along since its founding in 1905, now wishing me a happy birthday with the reminder that I joined this group back in 1951 — more than 70 years ago! I guess I’m also soldiering along as well, even managing to take on some new community responsibilities to go with the ones I’ve had for years and still retain But I’ve never thought about any of this much, if at all, in advance of today. 

As a personal columnist for the weekly Texas Jewish Post, I’m now writing about the enduring, endearing gift I received from my father’s New York cousin Peter, who visited our home in Pittsburgh when business brought him to Pennsylvania so very many years ago. He came bearing gifts: Tinker Toys for my sister, who was just a toddler — much too young for them then, so of course I immediately appropriated their use — and for me, already a rabid reader at age 6, a one-volume children’s encyclopedia. I loved — and still do — its (now so very outdated) content, which retains usefulness today as a great provider of chronologic information for me. But, most of all, I treasure its personal inscription from Cousin Peter: “The World Is Yours — To Improve And Enjoy!” My children, their children and now their grandchildren, have all had — and some are now having — their own time to read this book for themselves.

So now, I must ask myself this question: Have I — now at an age well plus 70 — improved and enjoyed the world I live in, even its tiniest bit? And after the “now” of today: What may come next? I don’t think I can even begin to answer that question without first taking a hard look backward… 

My son followed his parents’ pathetic pattern of marital confusion and wound up — as did I — divorced; I later remarried into a very good life; he has built a good life for himself and his three children (plus grandchildren) while retaining a good relationship with his former wife, but has never married again. My daughter was widowed when her two sons were young, and fully devoted herself to them afterward, never even considering another marriage. Did any of us make the “right” choice? A big question: Did any of us really have any choices other than the ones we made for ourselves? Does this mean — in effect — that we really didn’t have any choices at all? 

The confusion of “What if?” remains with me — and I suspect with us all — to this very day…

Harriet Gross can be reached at

This Post Has One Comment

  1. melinda

    Dear Harriet,
    I am so deeply touched by your thoughts, and writing style! I just saw today’s (6/7/2022) episode of the PBS NewsHour featuring a brief (5-minute) segment with Professor (Author) David Kertzer, in which he discusses his latest book about Pope Pius XII and Adolf Hitler (and Benito Mussolini). A few minutes after watching this “too brief” an interview for such an important and prescient topic of newly evidenced history, I searched online for something about David Kertzer and inadvertently came across your tjpnews column dated in 2016 about David’s father, (Rabbi) Morris Kertzer and his book’s invaluable contribution to your bookshelf and synagogue students of many years, “What Is A Jew?” I loved, really loved, your reveries about Rabbi Morris Kertzer’s visit (though ending up in the hospital rather than leading the congregation during your rabbi’s absence), and most especially what his book has meant to you and your students all these years. It so happens that I, too, have this book, though I never read it from cover to cover. But now, with your writing and personal experience as inspiration, I hope to — perhaps this coming Shabbat. Please, please keep writing.
    –Melinda (SF Bay Area)

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