An Unusual Way to Think About Life When in Despair

Here is something you probably haven’t encountered in the self-help realm. The therapeutic aid applies in a world where trust is challenged 24/7, as it now is.

A story is required to explain it. No religious belief is needed, though the lesson can be found in sacred writing.

The Genesis tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, places of exceptional immorality, tells of God’s decision to destroy those cities and every person within them.

The Master of the Universe talks with Abraham before the destruction, a man honored by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He respectfully pushes back on the Almighty’s sweeping judgment to punish everyone, the decent along with the evil.

This worthy individual reminds God of his role as “the Judge of all the earth.” He asks the Lord whether the wicked and the righteous should share the same fate.

Might the Creator be willing, the Jewish patriarch asks, to spare the planned eradication if 50 upright souls reside within the doomed cities?

God agrees: he will save the entirety of those evil places if 50 exist.

The conversation with the Lord continues. Each time Abraham pleads for the Deity to lower the requirement. The discussion concludes with an agreement to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 honorable souls.

In the end, only Abraham’s nephew Lot and his small family are deemed virtuous by angels who search for 10 upstanding citizens. Short of the number required for the towns to escape God’s wrath, they alone are permitted to flee.

Many themes are present in this biblical tale. Its emphasis on the value of each individual prompted this essay. God is prepared to spare all the guilty for the sake of a few who are good. He allows a family below the promised number to depart.

What advice might grow from this?

When in despair over your life or the state of the world, perhaps consider something else. Yes, we live in a troubled time in which much harm occurs each day. We have all been hurt or afraid in this challenging moment.

Yet, you might pause to evaluate whether anyone you know or are aware of is decent?

I imagine someone will occur to you. Does the presence of even one such individual encourage you to continue to recognize your life, too, has value?

Now think of someone who might also be facing challenges. They may be thinking of you as someone whose existence lightens their burden. You make their life better simply by being here.

Maybe you do things for them for which they are grateful. Your benign presence or characteristic kindness allows them to take heart. Your laughter or cleverness brings joy, distraction, and their gladness they are alive to hear it.

The world needs many things: wisdom, courage, and generosity come to mind, in addition to those qualities mentioned above. But just as Abraham argued that a handful would justify God’s leniency, I will argue one needn’t be a superhero to uphold the human race despite the messes we humans make.

The kind heart found in a single neighbor, friend, and even within you adds to the conversation about the value of life and living. I hope you can find yourself on the list of those with at least one good quality. Earth is a place where other admirable souls you know or have heard of also reside.

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The Descent Towards Sodom by Marc Chagall, 1931. Abraham is surrounded by three angels. The image is sourced from Wikiart.org.

“I’m Not Going to See This Again:” A Nonpolitical Life Lesson From the Inauguration

Barack_Obama_in_front_of_portrait_of_Abraham_Lincoln_2-12-09

“I want to take a look one more time. I’m not going to see this again.” President Barrack Obama had just finished his second Inaugural Address and was about to enter the West Front of the Capitol when he uttered those words, turning to look back at the National Mall. The several hundred thousand people there had just witnessed the renewal of an old tradition and cheered him throughout. But in that fleeting moment, whether we voted for him or not, the President offered us a model of how to live with a full awareness of the preciousness and passing of time.

Others have offered a different example. The great Negro Major League pitcher, Satchell Paige, advised “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you,” only half in jest. Reaching further into our history we find the cautionary biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot is the nephew of Abraham, one of the few good men in that iniquitous place. He and his wife are permitted to leave before God’s destruction of the two cities, but there is a catch. They are instructed by angels not to look back. When Lot’s wife does she is turned into a pillar of salt, apparently because her action signaled a feeling of regret.

"The Avenue in the Rain" by Frederick Child Hassam, 1917

“The Avenue in the Rain” by Frederick Childe Hassam, 1917

The President survived his look back, seeking to live in that moment just a little bit longer. Perhaps it was to absorb the history that he was participating in and appreciate all the people who traveled far to be there, mostly for him. Perhaps because it simply felt good, the kind of headiness a few of us feel in a moment of glory, but almost never on that scale. Perhaps because he knew that nothing lasts forever.

Savor the moment — that is one message we can take from what Obama did. But it needn’t be a grand historical event and we needn’t be President. It could be our daughter’s wedding or just mowing the grass. All the moments, every moment of life is here and then gone. Look, listen, breathe, smell, touch, compete, immerse, live to the fullest. Take nothing for granted, neither the commonplace nor the unexpected; neither the pain nor the pleasure.

We are participating in history, too. Our own. The President’s words apply equally well to all of us:

“I want to take a look one more time. I’m not going to see this again.”

You can see the moment I’ve described and hear the Presidents words by clicking on the link: Obama 2013 Inauguration Departure.

The image at the top is President Barrack Obama in front of a Portrait of Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 2009 by Peter Souza, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.