Imagine that you find yourself in a large, nicely carpeted room. There are dark drapes on the wall. The lights are muted; the mood is somber. In the front, on the podium are two candles burning. Gathered are two hundred of your closest friends and relatives. Everyone is seated and listening attentively. All eyes are focused on the front of the room, and there you are, right there in front of everyone – lying in a box. Dead as a doornail. Hello, this is your funeral.
You look around the room, and you see people you haven’t seen in years. There’s your Aunt Miriam. There’s Moshe, your best friend from high school. You want to run over and hug him. In the front row sits your brother. You have spoken to him in five years. You want to tell him that you are so sorry for all of those harsh words that you spoke to each other. But you can’t. You can’t move. You can’t speak. You see your cousin Rochel, who you grew up with. She looks terrible; she is bawling away. You want to comfort her and tell her it’s not so bad. “Come on, Rochel. It happens to all of us.”
You wonder, “Is this real? How can it be? It doesn’t make sense. I can think and see. I know that everyone is in the room. I can even hear them. I must be alive! It must be a mistake. Maybe it’s just a dream. That’s it. Of course. A nightmare. And when I wake up in the morning, it will all be gone.”
The speakers get up and say all sorts of nice things about you. Memories of you when you were younger. Good things that you did in your lifetime. Your Rabbi gets up and sings your praises. “Oh, Rabbi,” you want to say, “that is so sweet of you. But, really, no need, no need.” You realize, of course, this can’t be happening. Not to you. Not in this lifetime anyway. You try to call out, “I want to thank you all for coming. It’s been really nice to get together again, but now it’s time for all of us to go back home. OK?” But no words come out of your mouth. Your lips are blue. Your hands are cold.
The unsettling part is that you are alert. You are conscious, but locked in. And. . . you are scared. Terrified is a better word. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you always knew this moment would come, but not so soon. Not now. I’m not ready. Not yet.
In that one electrifying moment, you come to the realization that life has an end. You finally get it. You finally understand that you were here on this planet for a few short years. You had a mission and a goal, with a particular function to accomplish, and now it is over. You’re dead. And you want to scream out, “Stop! This can’t be happening. Stop!”
The ceremony ends. Your friends, the people in your life, come forward. They gather around the coffin, each one putting a shoulder under it. They lift it up. You hear them say, “He was so young.” “What a tragedy.” “I can’t believe it.” They carry you out of the funeral home. The crowd – their faces ashen – moves along into the street. They walk till they get to the back of the hearse. Someone opens the door. It swings out slowly, as if it had all the time in the world. They slide the casket – your casket – into the back. Someone comes forward and screws in a metal plate to hold it in place. The crowd begins to scatter. They get into their cars.
You hear the engine start. The hearse pulls out. Through every bump and twist of the road, you are there. Present. Alert. Aware. You see the highway approaching. The highway you drove on a thousand times. It is so bright and vivid. The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful day. “What a nice day for a funeral,” you think. But wait. What do you mean? How can this be? And the hearse drives on.
After what seems like an eternity, the hearse arrives at the cemetery. It stops. People get out of their cars. They start to gather. Someone opens the back of the hearse. You don’t recognize him; he is wearing a worn black suit and thin black tie; he looks like he’s done this many times before. He says to the others “Reach in and slide the coffin out.” Your old business partner steps forward. “Hey, where are you taking me?” you want to scream out.
They slowly pull your casket out of the back. A number of the men take hold of it and start to walk. Slowly. Deliberately You see your kids. Crying. Trembling. You hear the words, “Abba! Abba!” You want to hug them, but you can’t. You want to cry, but you can’t.
They carry you to an open grave. You look in. It seems very, very deep. “What are you guys going to do now?” you want to shout. They set the casket down on two wood pieces that lay across the deep hole in the grave. They pull the wood away. All that is holding you up are two cloth bands. Men gather on each side and grab the bands. Slowly, they start to lower you into the ground. And it hits you. At that moment, the truth comes crashing through. My life. It’s over. My life is over! All that I have known it to be – all that I have come to expect – life itself is over. It wasn’t supposed to end. Not really. Certainly not like this.
And now the real panic begins. “Stop! What are you doing? This can’t be real. Stop it! I am alive! What are you doing? Don’t put me in there. I won’t be able to get out! Stop. How am I going to breathe in there? Stop! Stop! Stop!” But they don’t stop. They continue to lower you deeper and deeper in. You can no longer see their faces. “Stop. Help! Someone. Please. Please make them stop!” Your mind races a thousand thoughts. How can this be? Life. Life itself. What is happening? You feel a jolt as your casket hits bottom.
Someone picks up a shovel, turns the spade part backwards, and begins dropping dirt. “What are you doing?!” You try to scream. You hear the first dropping of dirt on the casket. “Stop!” Then another. The sound is deafening. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me. Not yet! The next dropping hits, the sound is even louder. “Isn’t anyone going to make them stop?! Please! Help! Someone, make them stop!” Again and again, the dirt drops down and it starts to form a layer. “Stop! I am still here. Stop! Stop! Stop!” But it continues. More dirt, and more dirt, until a layer forms, a complete layer covers your casket. Then it happens.
That moment that you ran from. That one moment that you kept pushing away – not this year. Not now. You knew it had to happen at some point. It was only a matter of time. Maybe later. Some other time. Now is that other time. It finally happens. You and your body separate. You go up and your body is left behind in the dirt.
A new wave of terror sweeps over you as one thought occupies your entire being: WHAT COMES NEXT?
The beauty of being alive is that as long as there is breath in my lungs, as long as there is blood coursing through my veins, I can change. The real value of life is the difference that I can make for eternity in me. In who I will be forever. That is the reason HASHEM put us on the planet, and it is the only thing truly worth striving for.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to accomplish this year, and become the great individuals that HASHEM wishes us to be.