Our Regrets and Our Dreams
a sermon by Rabbi Marx
I want to begin my remarks before Yizkor with a thought
that I pray you take home with you. Every once in a
while, I read something that truly stays with me. Well,
John Barrymore, said in Good Night, Sweet Prince, A
man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”
Isn’t that a powerful statement? We know that we are
old, when our dreams, normally associated with the
young are replaced by our regrets, usually associated
with maturity. We can remember the dreams that we had
when we were in college. We dreamed of a future full of
love, success, passion and purpose. What happens to us
when those dreams vanish and we are left with regrets
over the mistakes that we made or worse, the
opportunities that were lost? I surmise that many of us in
this room are filled with regrets for harsh words we wish
we had not said or things we failed to say to those we
mourn. Too many of us have the added burden of regret
for lost moments of love, forgiveness and intimacy with
those who are now gone. That is indeed a tragedy. It
makes us old.
A student of Leo Buscaglia submitted a poem during the
Vietnam War. Its message is clear; if we don’t seize the
special moments that come along, regret a powerful
emotion, may be all that’s left.
Remember the day I borrowed your brand new
car and scratched it and I thought you’d kill me, but you
And the time I nagged you to take me to the
beach and you said it would rain and it did. I thought
you’d say, “I told you so,” but you didn’t.
And the time I flirted with all the guys to make
you jealous and you were. I thought you’d leave me, but
And the time I spilled pie all over your brand new
strawberry rug. I thought you’d yell at me, but you
And the time I forgot to tell you that the dance
was formal and you showed up in jeans. I thought you’d
drop me, but you didn’t.
There were lot of things you didn’t do. You put
up with me and you loved me and you protected me.
There lots of things I wanted to make up to you when
you returned from Vietnam. But you didn’t.
No one, however wise, has not at some period of his
youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of
which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would
gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory. After a
while we get weighed down with regret. Guilt induces
feelings of unworthiness and perpetual pain. True
moments of pleasure are often destroyed by these regrets
which can haunt us for the rest of our lives John Whittier
wrote, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The
saddest are these: “It might have been!” This indeed
ages us before our time.
As we are about to begin Yizkor, we must face the truth
that for some, our sacred task is to find forgiveness from
our lost loves. Theocentrists argue that only God can
release us from self-tormenting guilt. Humanocentrists
believe that it must come from within. We alone have
the power to grant self-absolution. Our tradition is a
combination of the two. It wisely understands that the
path to self-forgiveness is through the forgiveness of
others. Remember our liturgy. First we forgive others
for their sins committed against us and only then, do we
seek forgiveness for our own misdeeds towards them
from God. The door to inner peace opens outward.
Forgiving others releases us from pain, anger and
bitterness. But it does so much more. It makes us
believe in that one moment of transcendent grace that
forgiveness is possible. And if we can forgive others,
then they can forgive us. And we can find ultimate
forgiveness from ourselves and from God.
So, as we are about to observe Yizkor, we must ask
ourselves, how can we find forgiveness from the dead?
How can we make peace for the hurts we inflicted upon
those who are no longer among us? Many of us in this
room are filled with remorse for bitter words uttered,
loving words never said, caring deeds never done and
moments remembered for our insensitivity or outright
hostility. How can we find release from the burden of
I would like to suggest that we find it by forgiving others
who are still with us. We find it by loving others who are
still with us. We find it by reaching out to others who are
still with us. Is it the same as reaching out to those now
gone? No. But it is the best we can do. And if we fail to
do so, we will forever be trapped in yesterday, racked
with remorse, and we will grow old far before our time.
We must find the strength to reach out and love, or perish
emotionally. I remember reading a poem by Marge
Piercy, which struck me to the core.
When I die
Give what’s left of me away.
And old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking down the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
And give them
What you need to give to me.
I want to leave you something
Look for me
In the people I’ve known
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live in your eyes
And not in your mind.
You can love me most
Hands touch bodies,
And by letting go
That need to be free.
Love doesn’t die. People do. So, when all that’s left of
me Is love, Give me away. When Adam and Eve lost
Abel in the Bible, they felt that their lives had come to an
end. The rabbis remind us that they were hopeless and
despondent. They had no way to make peace with their
murdered son. Commentators have pointed out that
Adam and Eve felt partly responsible for Abel’s murder,
having raised Cain, who wrought such death and
callousness. But if we read the Torah carefully, we soon
realize that Adam and Eve made peace with Abel, by
bringing new life into the world. They had Enoch and
Seth. The text gives us a coarse translation; “God has
appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain
slew him.” A better understanding of the text is that Seth
and Enoch were certainly not a replacement for Abel but
rather a vehicle by which Adam and Eve, the grieving
parents, could love again. And through the love of
another, they were able to more deeply love their lost one
and heal their hurts. Through their love of renewed life,
they were able to surmount their regrets and escape the
death of the soul. They found forgiveness and peace by
loving those closest to them, even in the shadow of their
My friends, as we begin our Yizkor service, many of us
are suffering from the daunting pain of losing beloved
family members and companions who have departed this
Earth, and some, far too early or far too cruelly. To be
sure, climbing out of the morass of regret is not a cure-all
for mourners; but for the many of us whose mourning is
enmeshed with regret, this is one gulf we can cross to
help ease our pain. Even in the darkness of our deep
losses, even in the anguish and agony that we feel from
missing our loved ones, we must remember that there is a
way to conquer our regrets. There is a path to
forgiveness from those now gone. It is to love those still
with us. It is to forgive those who are standing beside us.
Our regrets will paralyze life; our love and forgiveness
can give it power. Our regrets will imprison life; our
love and forgiveness can release it. Our regrets will sour
life; our love and forgiveness can make it sweet. Our
regrets will sicken life; our love and forgiveness will heal
it. Our regrets will blind us to life, while our love and
forgiveness will anoint our eyes. Our regrets will age us,
while our love and forgiveness will keep us young.
Gregory S. Marx Rabbi Yiskor Sep ‘02