I was saddened to learn that the Rabbi Harold Kushner died on April 26th at the age of 88. Rabbi Kushner is best known for his best-selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He wrote that book in the wake of his 14-year-old son’s death in 1977. “Like a lot of children who feel they’re going to die soon, he was afraid he would be forgotten because he didn’t live long enough, not knowing parents never forget. I promised to tell his story.”
To his surprise, the book rose to the number 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list. He noted that “It was my first inkling of how much suffering was out there, all over the world, that religion was not coping with.” A question many ask themselves is how God can let all these bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it. His obituary quoted him "'What did I do to deserve this’ is an understandable outcry from a sick and suffering person, but it is really the wrong question. Being sick or healthy is not a matter of what God decides that we deserve. The better question is, ‘If this has happened to me, what do I do now, and who is there to help me do it.’”
While he is best known for the book, I was amazed at the wisdom he could share with few words. I’ll share some of his quotes that struck a chord with me.
- Forgiveness is a favor we do for ourselves, not a favor to the other party
- People who pray for miracles usually don’t get miracles, any more than children who pray for bicycles, good grades, or good boyfriends get them as a result of praying. But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of what they have lost, very often find those prayers answered.
- People need to feel that their lives make a difference. We are not afraid of dying so much as not having lived.
I’ll try to keep these present in my mind, especially when the going gets tough. Though he will be greatly missed, Rabbi Kushner’s books and thoughts live on and provide meaning and comfort to many of us.
Take care and stay safe.
The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann
On January 28, 1742, a ramshackle vessel of patched-together wood and cloth washed up on the coast of Brazil. Inside were thirty emaciated men, barely alive, and they had an extraordinary tale to tell. They were survivors of His Majesty’s Ship the Wager, a British vessel that had left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. While the Wager had been chasing a Spanish treasure-filled galleon known as “the prize of all the oceans,” it had wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. The men, after being marooned for months and facing starvation, built the flimsy craft and sailed for more than a hundred days, traversing nearly 3,000 miles of storm-wracked seas. They were greeted as heroes.
But then ... six months later, another, even more decrepit craft landed on the coast of Chile. This boat contained just three castaways, and they told a very different story. The thirty sailors who landed in Brazil were not heroes – they were mutineers. The first group responded with countercharges of their own, of a tyrannical and murderous senior officer and his henchmen. It became clear that while stranded on the island the crew had fallen into anarchy, with warring factions fighting for dominion over the barren wilderness. As accusations of treachery and murder flew, the Admiralty convened a court martial to determine who was telling the truth. The stakes were life-and-death—for whomever the court found guilty could hang.