Earlier this week, NY Times best-selling author Sara Davidson wrote about talking to your parents about death and about she came to write her memoir The December Project (HarperOne), which is based on her conversations with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi about how getting “up close with mortality” quickens our ability to relish every day. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
“How is that possible, since we don’t know what day we’ll die?” I asked Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement.
He laughed. “That’s why we need to do teshuva every day.” He said this can be as simple as, while talking to a friend, watching T.V. or cooking dinner, turning your thoughts to God. “If I’m talking to my friend, there’s the divine in her, and if I remember that, I’m also paying attention to God.”
When you eat dinner, he said, think about how the food and drink come from God.
If you need a reminder, he suggested hanging a bell in your car, so when you hit a bump and it rings, you can say, “I’m aware of you, God,” or “Thank you, God, for a car that carries me where I need to go.” He’s had a bell in his own car for years. “If, God forbid, I should die in a car crash, my last thought would not be, Oh shit, but a prayer to God.”
You could also hang the bell in a doorway in your home, low enough so it rings when you pass. Or you can try other cues: each time you stop for a red light, let it remind you that God created light.
If you make this a habit, Reb Zalman told me, you’ll be sure to fulfill the commandment to do teshuva the day before you die.
As I stood up to leave, he reached in a box and gave me a small brass bell to hang on the rear view mirror of my car. Then, as was his habit, he broke into song: “The bell is ringing, for me and my God.”
To read more about Sara Davidson’s “Fridays with Reb Zalman,” click here.
In addition to The December Project, Sara Davidson is the author of Leap!: What Will We Do with the Rest of Our Lives?, Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties, Cowboy: A Novel, Joan: Forty Years of Life, Loss, and Friendship with Joan Didion.
In 2009, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi asked N.Y. Times best-selling author Sara Davidson to talk with him about “The December Project.” He wanted to help people not freak out about dying, and show how getting “up close with mortality” quickens our ability to relish every day. Davidson’s memoir of the two years they spent meeting every week, The December Project, will be published March 25 by HarperOne. Davidson is also the author of Loose Change, Leap! and Joan: Forty Years of Love, Loss and Friendship with Joan Didion. Read more about her here.