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Letter to Your Future Self: Hold onto those Silver Linings

Ah, silver linings: those deliciously meaningful moments that make sheltering at home manageable and sometimes even inspirational.

No matter our situation, most of us have experienced poignant silver linings. When I asked Facebook friends to share the silver linings they want to hold onto when we eventually leave quarantine, the response was overwhelming. In the midst of sheltering at home, many of us are discovering some changes are life-changing.

We cherish these silver linings

They wrote about finding the silver linings in:

  • Eating dinner at home with the kids for days and weeks at a time
  • Enjoying home-cooked meals
  • Rediscovering long forgotten interests and hobbies, or embracing new ones
  • Sharing dinner or drinks with old friends where, in pjs and over Zoom, they reconnected and talked in depth
  • FaceTiming regularly with usually-too-busy grandchildren
  • Reading books, writing poetry, doing gardening, cooking
  • Taking long walks or run
  • Shmoozing with the neighbors
  • Reclaiming extra time once lost because of long commutes
  • Deepening relationships with their synagogues and clergy
  • Even attending a memorial gathering for a dear one, now possible because the internet enabled us to attend from hundreds or even thousands of miles away

Ah, silver linings: those deliciously meaningful moments that are possible because in the midst of it all we looked up, looked around, and noticed.

A story…

There’s a Midrash [Note the names; they are full of meaning]: [1]

About back when our Israelite ancestors crossed the Red Sea. In the Torah, Moses counted 603,550 men of fighting age, which means we might double that number for women, add in an average of at least 2 children, then the old and weary, and the infirmed and disabled. Torah’s narrative, whether historically accurate or not, suggests that almost 3 million people would had to have depart Egypt with Moses, Miriam, and Aaron. You gotta think it would have taken quite a long time for all the people to get to the other side.

According to the version of the story I like to tell, there were three people, kvetches each, walking in the middle of the multitude. Let’s call them Meron haMarir, who became embittered, Datan haMood’ag, who always worried, and Pachad haM’fahched, who was consumed by fear. They complained the whole way: about mud on their shoes, about stepping in donkey poop, about the smell of dead fish. “What’s the difference?” they kvetched. “Mud here, mud there, it’s all the same.” Sure, they watched carefully where they stepped the entire way. But weighed down by bitterness, worry, and fear, they never looked up.

Only when they got to the other side did theylook around their eyes, whereupon they noticed that Miriam and all the women were dancing and singing. With derision, they challenged Miriam, “What is there to sing and dance about?”

Miriam said to them, “You forgot to look around. Because of that you missed the greatest communal moment of all time: the experience of experiencing a miracle.

Yes, Meron haMarir, it is so easy to become embittered.

Yes, Datan haMood’ag, it is so easy to be consumed by worry.

Yes, Pachad HaM’fached, how quickly fear can force us to keep our heads down, especially when our present and future feel endangered.

Yet by waiting until the journey was over to finally look around, you each missed the wonder and the hope.

You missed seeing those two teens, Ezra the Helpful and his sister Tikun who could fix anything, who interlocked their arms, creating a place upon which the elderly could sit and be carried across. Their simple act inspired thousands of other youth to emulate them.

And you missed how the dolphins and other water animals came to the side of the sea walls, and stuck half their bodies out precariously, risking their lives to provide another kind of seat to transport the disabled along the distance.

You missed what Naama did. Naama emulated her namesake, Noah’s wife, who brought seeds into the ark to replenish the earth. Our Naama, so pleasant, zigzagged between the exhausted wanderers offering bits of food to replenish the strength of the weakened ones so they could walk on.

And how Ruchama the M’rachemet, who compassionately organized her friends to check in on all the people who were anxious or depressed.

You missed Menashe the Maggid, who told story after story to the young ones so they wouldn’t be afraid, and so that their parents, on edge from constantly watching over them, could breathe a bit more easily.

You missed Shira the Meshoreret, who sang songs to the exhausted walkers, uplifting them on the long, challenging journey through. They inspired me, Miriam, to sing.

And you missed the most amazing moment when the littlest one, Tikvah, always hopeful, relishing his time with his Dads, declared at the top of his lungs: “I love this! When we arrive, I don’t want to go back. Dads, do we have to go back to the way it was?

“Yes,” Miriam said, “the women sang, and the teens inspired, and the storytellers entertained. And we all got through.”

We will get through

And I say, we will get through. We will have to mourn our dead first. And protect and heal our sick. And name the newfound challenges faced by too too many from economic hardship and job loss, from isolation, mental health struggles, and parenting challenges, and so much more.

But then, can we marvel at how many of us have reimagined our lives in a multitude of ways that are meaningful and motivating, healthy and hopeful?

We are eating with our children. FaceTiming with the grandparents. Cooking. And cleaning and organizing. With smiles on our faces. We are taking walks, and embracing hobbies. We are reconnecting with old friends.

We don’t have to go back to the way it was

Will we remember how our hearts made hopeful promises to hold onto those unexpectedly pleasant parts of the quarantine, declaring, like Tikvah the hopeful one, about the silver linings, “I loved that! … Do we have to go back to the way it was?”

There’s an article that went viral on Medium, Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting, by Julio Vincent Gambuto. It describes how we will soon be assaulted by a coordinated marketing campaign goading us to go back to the way it was. To buy and consume. To ignore what went on before and what has happened since. To throw off the bitterness, worry, and fear, only to rush forward into the arms of consumerism and it’s-all-about-me-ism. To be knocked unconsicous again. Because we crave what feels normal, what feels familiar.

Sure we need to get back to work. We will need to restart the economy when the medical experts and scientists ensure we have sufficient testing and control capacities to keep us safe.

But by what means will we protect ourselves from the onslaught that’s coming? How will we ensure that when we are released, we will not return to unhealthy, self-defeating ways of living?

I want to keep this connection with my kids, and my parents, my old friends, and my new hobbies. I want tie to walk and think. I want time to breathe.

I have a suggestion. To keep you, and me, sane and still breathing in the future.

Write a letter to your future self

Tomorrow, or perhaps the day after, sit down and write a letter. To yourself. Well, to your future self who will exist five or six months from now.

Use pen and paper. Or thumbs on a smartphone. Or fingers typing on a computer. Or make a video. In your letter or video, remind your future self (who will have re-emerged) about the silver linings you joyfully experienced in quarantine.

Or, if this quarantine is wreaking havoc, because you do not have the means, emotional or mental energy, or ability to juggle it all, write about how you are maintaining your status quo. That’s itself is heroic.

Everyone, let’s enumerate our efforts that led to living better, healthier, more hopefully. Implore your future self to fill your future days with that promise. Compile a list of 2-4 current behaviors that you would like to embrace for your life in the future.

Maybe you will listen to you

Many of us are not great at listening to the advice of others. Maybe by writing or talking to yourself, your future self will actually listen. To you.

So that five months or so from now, you will continue to live those silver linings.

When we get out, we don’t need to go back. We get out, when we arrive at the Promised Land, we don’t need to return to Egypt.

Instead, let’s continue to moving forward.

And let me know if you write or video these letters to your future self. I’m fascinated to hear about your experience.

And of course, I can’t wait to meet you again in five or six months so we can help each other hold onto the silver linings.

Shabbat Shalom.

Inspiration for this article was born on a long walk with my thinking partner, Michelle November, who doubles as my wife of almost 30 years. It owes its articulateness to the valuable editing skills of my former interns, Rabbi Sarah Rosenbaum Jones, Rabbi Elana Nemitoff-Bresler, and Rabbi Julie Bressler.

[1] In the Exodus Rabba 24:1 version of the Midrash, Ruben and Simeon were the kvetches. Also retold in Andrea London, in Mussar Torah Commentary, Barry Block, ed., p.318.

One comment

  1. Richard Abrams says:

    Hello, Rabbi Paul,
    Thank you, as always, for your articulate, wise and thought-provoking words. My Journal of the Corona Virus is not technically a letter to myself, but an effort to connect with other people and give them a chance to express how they’re coping with there situation. Nevertheless, when I look back on these days (I am saving them all in a binder) I suppose that some of the insights I’ve gained will alter my future life. I will honor your suggestion and think about some of the ways I’ve changed for the better, and how I want to continue them when the smoke has cleared. Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy.

    As always,


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