Sermon for Yom Kippur Yizkor Service, September 23, 2015

We join together this afternoon as a congregation of mourners.  We come here to gain support from others who have also experienced the loss of loved ones.  We dedicate this hour to think of them, to recall all that we loved about them.  Oh how we yearn to be with them once again, if even for just a few minutes- to hear them laugh, to feel their touch, to express longings and regrets. We would just like to have more time with them for time is our most precious commodity.

We pray today that those closest to us have health and long life.  If, however, this is not to be, we ask that God grant them an easy death, an end to their pain and suffering.  Our prayers are for life and more life.  Our Tradition exalts all life as a gift from God.  It is almost unimaginable for us to think that a healthy person would not want to live as long and as well as possible.  This is why I was so upset when I read an article last month in the Washington Post (August 3) about a healthy and vibrant 75 year old British nurse, Gill Pharoah.  Pharoah had no debilitating illnesses, took no medication, and led an active and engaged life.  Having worked with the elderly for much of her career, Gill feared becoming debilitated by a stroke as had a dear friend.  So she decided to end her life while she was well enough to do it herself.  Since euthanasia is illegal in Great Britain, she traveled to Switzerland where she and her partner checked into a lovely hotel and had a very nice dinner.  The next morning she and her friend went to a clinic where she joked with the doctor before he administered a lethal drug.  Gill leaves behind two children and a grandchild.

I am absolutely appalled by Gill Pharoah’s decision.  She had life, health, and much more time ahead of her, yet she willingly and rationally decided to end her life.  While I testified in the State Senate this year against euthanasia, I certainly sympathize with those afflicted with constant pain and debilitating diseases who want to end their suffering.  Yet our lives are a gift from God.  Our bodies do not belong just to us.  We are not to do whatever we want with them.  Before a funeral, we say “God has given, God has taken, blessed is the name of God.”    Our bodies and our very lives belong to God.

I do not understand why Gill would not want to enjoy all the wonderful parts of even an ordinary day- The laugh of a child, the affection of a pet, the feel of the wind against our skin, the heat of the sun on our faces.  Even the disappointments we experience and the sorrow we feel are proof that we are alive and vital. The ability to read a book, to watch a movie, to listen to music, even just to sit and think are gifts from God. To forsake these gifts is tragedy.  Yet this is not the purpose of our existence.  God did not give us life so we can feel pleasure, live pleasantly, and appreciate beauty.  God did not create us merely to experience joy.  God gave us life to do good deeds, to make the world a better place, to repair the brokenness in our world.   Every day we are alive gives us the opportunity to do more for others and contribute to our communities.  We are here to partner with God in the ongoing perfection of our world.  Each day on earth allows us to fulfill our Divine mandate.

I was the first one to address the State Senate committee in opposition to the proposed euthanasia bill.  Immediately following me was O.J. Brigance, the former Raven’s football player who has ALS.  Mr. Brigance is confined to a wheel chair and can only speak through the aide of a computer.  What he did say that afternoon in Annapolis will always stay with me (paraphrase).  “I have done more good over these eight years with ALS than I did all the previous years of my life.  My purpose in life is to do good and this disease has not hindered my ability to do so.”

When Gill Pharoah ended her life she denied God and engaged in an ultimate act of selfishness.  She could have had many more years of life and love, many more opportunities to do good deeds.  It is so difficult to understand how she could have forsaken all this. How we wish that our loved ones could only have had more time to be with us.  We think of them now as we dedicate ourselves to making better use of the time God has given us.

Amen and G’mar Chatima Tova

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