Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Living Life in Reverse


Operation Inspiration

I have a friend whose father used to drive a truck for a living. Now I don’t mean a pickup truck, or a small delivery truck. No, we’re talking the real deal, long-haul trucker with an 18-wheeler. One day, as he was driving, he was pulled over by a police officer. I don’t know what the infraction was, but the cop criticized his driving.

The truck-driving Jew retorted, “I’ve driven more miles in reverse than you’ve driven forward.” No word on how much the ticket went up, but the point he was making was that he was very experienced. I’m guessing the officer didn’t find it a humorous or witty comeback, but it does make me think. What would it be like to drive in reverse? Like, ALL THE TIME? OK, so maybe you can’t drive in reverse, but there is a way to take advantage of having been down a certain road before.

“Hindsight is 20-20,” goes the expression, and 2020 would have been a great year to have the benefit of hindsight. Hindsight, referring to looking back at the past and identifying causes and effects, is only beneficial because it can be transformed into foresight for future occasions. Simply looking back and agonizing over decisions or placing blame is a waste of time and basically just harmful.

On the other hand, if you can look in the rearview mirror and see what you’ve gone through, you’ll be better prepared when you pass that way again. So, for example, if someone is admitted to the Hospital with COVID, they are probably less likely to be placed on a ventilator. If the outbreak becomes more aggressive, people may wear masks or wash their hands more frequently to avoid making others sick. The fellow who was COVID-positive but went to shul anyway and infected an elderly man, otherwise healthy but who then died from the disease, might think twice before doing something like that again. But enough about 2020. Let’s take it elsewhere.

When you begin having the same conversation you’ve had a million times, and you know that it’s going to end in hurt feelings and frustration, maybe you look behind you and decide to avoid that pothole so you don’t cause more damage. By looking in the past, you can better navigate the future.

Parents frustrated with their children might look back in time and remember when they were that age. Did you ever act up or get in trouble at school? Ever speak rudely to your sibling? Did you ever forget to clean your room? Any of these things may annoy us to no end, but when we realize that it’s normal, and we did it too, we may be better able to accept things that we consider “unacceptable” by living in reverse.

Sometimes, though, looking in reverse doesn’t show us something we did, but something that was done to us. I know that when my kids talk or tell us stories, sometimes their voices reach a volume level or pitch that makes me recoil in pain, and I urgently remind them to lower their voices. Looking back, I recall a time when I had that exact reaction from my parents, when I was just telling them what happened and being true to life. When I remember that incident I’m a little calmer to my kids when I ask them to be quieter.

Maybe someone hurt you by saying something insensitive. Maybe you thought your new tie was beautiful and someone laughed at it. Maybe your outfit didn’t look as “slimming” as you thought it did and someone told you so. When we look back in the mirror of time and experience, we can learn how to act towards others.

When faced with a crisis, can you think of a time when you faced something similar? What happened? Did the worst-case scenario develop, or was it perhaps something less dire than you imagined? Did the stress and anxiety you went through achieve anything then, or did you maybe get the chance to learn that all they did was drain you and exacerbate the problems?

As we approach Elul and the Yomim Noraim, you can look back at the year you’ve just lived through and ask yourself what you might have done differently, given the benefit of the foresight of hindsight. Though you might not have been able to change anything before, now that you have 2020 as your hindsight, you can make next year very different.

So, keep checking your mirrors and scrutinizing the landscape that’s moving farther away each day. You will find that a life lived in retrospect offers a new roadmap with the potholes and pitfalls more clearly marked, with even the tolls tallied up and identified. Using this new heading, you can try to cruise more comfortably through life, knowing that the choices ahead are the same ones you faced before, but now you already have the right answers.


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