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Sliding doors

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It’s been two decades since my bat mitzvah.

How did that happen? It feels like yesterday, well maybe not yesterday, but last week for sure, when I was up on the pulpit chanting the Torah portion in my poofy floral dress.

Of the kids in my Hebrew class, I had the most rock star Torah portion—Bereshit—the story of creation. You know the one about God creating the sun, the moon, and the stars? Unlike most tween girls who declare the “theme” of their bat mitzvahs as “ballet” or “Broadway show tunes” or “the color pink,” my bat mitzvah theme was “Let there be Light!” My guest sign-in board was decked with glittery sketches of the sun and moon, designed by my artist grandfather, the concept of illumination front and center during my rite of passage weekend.

I think a lot about those steps in between my light-themed bat mitzvah and where I am now, sitting here writing this very post. We all have “full circle” moments that lead us from our meandering paths of life to the place we’re at today.

Reflect on the decisions, the big and small ones, you’ve made over your lifetime. Often, you never realize how what seems like an insignificant decision can ultimately lead you through a different journey.

In my professional career, I decided last minute to show up at my college’s magazine job fair where JUF News happened to be recruiting that day. Without attending that fair, I probably never would have found my job as editor of that publication. And, in my dating career, I recall my friends dragging me to go dancing one night following a dinner out, even though I was tired and wanted to go home. I humored them and joined them at a club and met a wonderful man who I dated for a while. And, although we’re no longer together, I may not have met other special people in my life without having met him.

Small decisions can make the difference in life and death too. Recently, I heard about a family friend who was visiting Chicago for a weekend. Just as he arrived at O’Hare to fly home, he had a heart attack. A cardiologist happened to be walking by and stepped in with a defibrillator mounted nearby and saved our friend’s life. Only a few minutes before, he’d been sitting in a cab, where no life-saving measures would have been available. The difference of a few minutes, perhaps the cab driver taking a shorter route to the airport—or speeding (a common occurrence in Chicago cabs)—probably saved his life.

The alternate journeys life takes is dramatized in the 1998 British-American romantic comedy film Sliding Doors. In the movie, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, the plot splits into two parallel universes. In one, after being fired from her job, Paltrow’s character Helen catches an early train home from work and catches her boyfriend cheating on her. Helen dumps him and starts life anew with a new job, a new circle of friends, and, ultimately, a new love. In the second scenario, she misses the train and gets home after her boyfriend’s mistress leaves, and stays with him, in the dark about his cheating. The film conveys how one tiny event, catching or missing a train, changes the course of history for Helen.

While I believe in free will, I find comfort in the concept of beshert, knowing—hoping—that some of the choices we make and that which is beshert work in harmony. Perhaps some of the steps along our journey are out of our hands, preordained by God, a force bigger than all of us. Perhaps who we’re meant to meet, what we’re meant to do, and who we’re meant to become is written in the stars, a subject I sang about at my bat mitzvah all those years ago. 

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