Some years ago, the people who ran the South Central Bell telephone company in Alabama had an idea for increasing business. They went to Bear Bryant, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama, a revered figure throughout the state.
They asked him to do a Mother’s Day television commercial. The most important line of his script were the three last words, "Call yo’ mama!" The phone company was sure that the State of Alabama was full of young men, eager to do anything Bear Bryant asked them to do, and as soon as they saw the commercial, they would all run out and start making long-distance calls.
Coach Bryant agreed, but on the day of the shoot, something unexpected happened.
Everything was all set up. The lights were in place, the cameras were rolling, the red light went on, but he didn’t deliver the line as scripted. Instead, his eyes welled up with tears and in a choking voice, this intimidating football coach said, "Have you called your mama today? I sure wish I could call mine."
The most successful coach in the history of college football -- frustrated and saddened by the thought of one thing he couldn't do.
Tonight, some of us are more aware of what we have lost than of what we have. This Yizkor memorial service is both a celebration of what we were lucky enough to have shared and a grieving for what we have lost. This story is not about either one of those.
The story of calling your mama is truly about what you can still do before you lose the chance. You have time. It is not too late.
As you sit here at the end of your Day of Atonement, I can finally tell you the truth about this Holy Day.
Yom Kippur is not really about life and death.Yom Kippur is also not about sin and atonement.Yom Kippur, and the High Holy Days in general, teach you that you are mortal, and tomorrow is not promised to you.There are things you should do. So, do them.There are things you ought to change. So, you had better change them.
Bear Bryant was right – There are people whom you really care about. Reach out to them. You do not know when they or you will be gone, and then – too late!
The other truth about the High Holy Days is that your relationships are not beyond healing. For traditional Jews, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we witness Abraham forced to sever his relationship with Hagar and Ishmael. We see Abraham and his son, Isaac, as they walk for three days to Mount Moriah in silence. We declare, “That does not describe me and my relationships.” And yet, it does.
A colleague of mine tells of counseling a young woman who had had a falling out with her parents and had not spoken to them for several years. He asked her, "If you were to get a phone call today that they had died, would you go to their funeral?"
The woman thought for a moment and said, "Yes, I suppose I would."
The rabbi asked, "Why?" and the woman said, "Because I guess I owe them that. They are my parents. And because I'm afraid I would feel guilty for the rest of my life if I didn't, and I don't want that. I would go because I would need that sense of closure."
The rabbi said, "Good answer. So why are you waiting for the funeral? Why not go to them now, when you could both have a sense of closure?"
Life may be short or long, but we do know that there are no guarantees how many tomorrows you may have.
Bear Bryant’s message to you is that words have the power to build bridges over the distances of not just space, but time. The right words can re-create a relationship that will mean more to you than any physical object you possess. The right words can heal wounds and soothe hurt feelings.
Bear Bryant was right when he deviated from the script and told people to speak the words that need to be spoken while they can still be heard. But he was wrong about something else. He was wrong in his belief that because his mother had died, he could no longer talk to her, no longer hear her voice.
Those of us gathered here this evening who have lost people we have loved -- does any one of us doubt our ability to hear their voices today? We all remember conversations we've had with them. We may even catch ourselves doing things we did with them, maybe things they taught us to do, and feel their presence in those moments. We hear their voices with clarity, and their faces have not faded from our memory.
This moment of Yizkor is not just a gaze backwards into your memory. It is meant to be a model of what you should be saying to your parents, your children, your husbands, your wives, your friends because you still have time. Let us follow Bear Bryant’s call to action.
For every one of you, the words will be different, the memories will be different, but the stories will be similar -- bonds of love, bonds of gratitude, tears of understanding, that maybe you were not capable of years ago. Where yesterday there was a separation, tomorrow there will be a bridge.
Let us heal old wounds and forgive old hurts, then we will, in fact, become new people, more open, more loving, more confident, as we step forward into the New Year.
Categories: 5777-2016 HHD Sermons
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