These lyrics, from America the Beautiful, have long captured the essence of America’s great expanse. From one coast to the other, the long plains, the rolling hills, the great mountains and rivers, all of it framed by the glimmering waters of the vast oceans with their ceaselessly rolling waves. If you’ve ever driven across the country you know the power of these words, how expertly and perfectly they manage to express not only a great stretch of land, but also the human feeling that comes with it. The smallness, somehow mysteriously coupled with the sense that this is ours and we are part of some grand narrative.
In a rabbi’s mind the words can also be understood as a metaphor. From sea to shining sea, from birth to death, we travel the long road of our lives, with twists and turns, bumps in the path, days of beautiful sunshine and gentle breezes and others filled with dark clouds and cold winds. There is a physical journey to life, but also a spiritual one. We strive to grow in soul, to learn and laugh, to live with conviction and meaning. We travel from one sea to the other accompanied by friends and family, some joining our path only for a short time, while others are with us for all of our years.
I saw the journey yesterday, in a single hour, all of it, from one sea to the other. One of the sacred privileges of being a rabbi. A beautiful baby boy had his bris, his parents so deeply grateful for his presence in their lives. That at noon. I rushed from there to a graveside funeral of a family’s beloved matriarch, just a few months short of her 100th birthday. Her grandchildren spoke beautifully about the impact she made in a century of life, about her grace and spirit. Just by chance the little boy, not yet a month old, and the old woman, at the end of her full and remarkable life, had the same last name.
At the bris I thought to myself, unspoken, let this boy have the blessings of the woman I’ll soon bury. Long life, family and friends, health, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. At the funeral I thought how blessed this woman has been in her life, and what a grand journey awaits that little boy. May it be long and filled with meaning.