Counting Days and Making Them Count

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Whenever the secular year closes and a new one begins, one of life’s simple chores is to change the pages of the desk calendar: out with the old, in with the new.

But that is not so simple. To anyone glancing at my desk calendar during this month, it is apparent that this is one chore I do not do well. Year in and year out, I find dozens of creative excuses to postpone this simple task as long as possible. Perhaps it is the reality of time marching ahead and leaving me behind; perhaps all those pages drifting forlornly into the wastebasket elicit the gnawing realization that in the past 12 months I could have accomplished much more. Whatever the reason, I delay, defer, put off, hang back, temporize. But here it is after Purim — time to bite the bullet.

My desk calendar, of course, contains not just one year, but 365 separate pages. A certain melancholy overcomes me as I discard each of those pages, for each one represents a separate entity. Some of them arouse happy memories: February 18, a bris milah. March 12, a bar mitzvah. June 22, a wedding. Throughout, reminders of birthdays and anniversaries and graduations. But some are just onerous duties: April 15: reminder for income tax payment. June 11, a dental appointment. Other entries are sad: visits to the sick; shivah visits. On August 2, I visited good friend Joey in the hospital. Joey never made it out of there, and on August 30 his funeral took place at 2 p.m. Was King Solomon, in his Koheles (chapter 3), thinking about desk calendars when he wrote: “for everything there is a season … a time to laugh and a time to cry …”?

As the pages float downward, I realize that what I am tossing away is nothing less than Time itself. One wants take hold of Time, to arrest its inexorable forward march. Time and its many servants — clocks and watches and timepieces and alarms and calendars — surround us wherever we go, controlling our every breath. Only the rare person has learned to master the master that is Time. And the only Timeless One is He for Whom “a thousand years are like a single yesterday” (Tehillim 90:4).

Somehow my mind reverts back to Macbeth’s famous soliloquy: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day.… Life’s but a walking shadow … a tale [t]old by an idiot … Signifying nothing.”

Shakespeare has his own dark way of looking at Time, but I prefer King David. In his Psalm 68:20 he says: Baruch Hashem yom yom, yaamas lanu — Blessed is G-d for every single day. He loads us [with blessings].” Each day has its own unique possibilities for deeper understanding, for closer connection with our Creator. Far from an idiot’s tale without significance, each day, from the Jewish point of view, is filled with infinite opportunities. Not that King David is not unrealistic about the passage of time. He is quite aware that life is all too short and all too difficult, as in his Tehillim 90:10: “The days of our years are seventy, and with strength, eighty; many are of toil and pain, and it is cut off swiftly and we disappear.” But David is a firm believer, and thus does not fall into Shakespeare’s black despond. Realizing this human condition, David prays: “Teach us to count our days, so that we may get us a heart of wisdom.” We are more than walking shadows.

Time is what we most want, and what we most waste. Maybe this is why I am so reluctant to let go of the past year. All 365 days are there in my wastebasket — yesterday and yesterday and yesterday — and the haunting question remains: Did I live each day, or merely exist through them?

And now comes the insertion of 365 blank new pages filled with hopes and possibilities — and perhaps pitfalls and dangers. Hopefully, there will be a maximum of laughter and simchah and a minimum of tears — and a recognition that each new day is a blank slate awaiting our personal imprint.

Next year when, please G-d, I trade in this year for a new one (before Purim), what will I feel like? We pray that He will help us count each day and make each day count. As last year’s days fade away and new ones come relentlessly forward, I am comforted by an old Hebrew aphorism cited in the famous Pele Yoetz: “He’avar ayin, he’asid adayin, ha’hoveh k’heref ayin; im kein, de’agah minayin? — the past is gone, the future is not yet, the present is a blink of an eye; therefore, why worry?

Bring on the desk calendars!

This piece first appeared in Mishpacha.

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