I’m sitting on a plane this morning on my way to Aspen, CO. The fellow next to me starts a conversation. He’s a life coach, probably ten years my senior, and somehow the fact that I’m turning 62 in a month comes up.
“And what will you do now that you’re grown up,” my neighbor asks.
“Well, I’m a rabbi, a college teacher, and a writer. I guess I’ll continue to do that.”
“Nope, you have to pick one. That’s what it means to grow up. Pick one.”
“Is this part of your coaching practice?” I ask.
He ignores my attempt to dodge the challenge. “Pick one. Here, I’ll help you. Could you live even one week without being a rabbi?”
“Sure,” I said, “I haven’t functioned as a congregational rabbi for over a decade.”
“What about college professor? If you couldn’t teach anymore, would you fall into the pits of despair?”
“No. Fact is, my tenure at the university has ended and they aren’t bringing me back. I’ll miss teaching, but I won’t get depressed over it.”
“What about writing? Can you go a week without writing?”
“A week? I can’t go even one day!”
“Well, you used to be a rabbi and you used to be a college teacher, and those things are over. Now you’re just a writer.”
“But I write about Judaism and still study Hebrew texts.”
“I’m not talking about what you write, only that when push comes to shove you can give up being a rabbi and a teacher but not give up being a writer. Can you even imagine retiring from writing?”
“No. Writing is how I work through life and find meaning in living. Writing is my spiritual practice.”
“So now you know what to do with your adult life: write.”
“But I do that already.”
“Write more. Write better. Write because you’re a writer and not a rabbi or college professor. Write not to make a living but to maintain your life.”
“Sorry,” he said, raising a hand to say Stop. “Anything more will cost you. Consider this the free advice of a stranger on a plane. Take it or leave it, though I doubt you can leave it.”
Then he turned to face the window, cupped a pair Bose headphones over his ears, and no longer knew or cared that I was there. I hate flying, but every once in a while it proves interesting.