Chaim Potok was an intensely religious man. He was a Jew who explored the dimensions of faith in our lives. From an early age, Potok knew he wanted to be a writer.
But his mother wasn’t so sure. When he went away to college she said, “Son, now I know you want to be a writer. But I want you to think about brain surgery. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying. And you’ll make a lot of money. “To which Potok responded, “No, Mama, I want to be a writer.”
But, “No,” is not what Mama wanted to hear. So, every vacation break for four years she would repeat her comments about his becoming a brain surgeon and keeping people from dying and making a lot of money, and always his response was the same.
Finally the son had enough, and, when the same mantra began, he cut off his mother with exasperation, and with great passion he told his mother, “Mama, I don’t want to keep people from dying, I want to show them how to live.” A God Alert
In 1967 Potok published his most critically praised novel, The Chosen, which won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. It was on the best-seller lists for many months. What an interesting mantra to have in life, “I don’t want to keep people from dying, I want to show them how to live.”
There are many passages in The Chosen that have been quoted over the years. Here is a notable one where David, the father, speaks to his son, Reuven:
“You are no longer a child, Reuven, . . .It is almost possible to see the way your mind is growing. And your heart, too. . . .So listen to what I am going to tell you. . .
Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? . . .
I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives the span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable, though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying?
A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here. Do you understand what I am saying?”
This Lent, consider the ways you can find meaning in your life.