Last Saturday I went to a Quaker memorial, and last night I went to a Bat Mitzvah. Although on the surface these two events might seem as different as possible, I was struck by their many similarities.

First of all, I cried through both of them and needed to be passed tissue by someone sitting nearby. I was not alone in this for on both occasions there was a widespread feeling of hearts being full. There was also a sense of being connected in the Divine Presence, of being in sacred space. Although in both cases the hosting faith community had opened its arms to the wider community of people who loved its member, both were what Quakers would call a “gathered meeting.”  

Love was really the common thread. Many people expressed their love and gratitude for a special person in their lives, and the rest of us felt privileged to be a witness to that love. Both events were also about reflecting on the purpose of a human life. “All belongs to God,” said the rabbi. “You’re only a visitor, and be of service to others.” These were the lessons of the Torah portions we were hearing, she explained. They seemed also to be the lessons of the memorial of someone whose life was short on years and long on service and care of others.

More than the presence of a rabbi or the recitations in Hebrew, the biggest difference between the events could be seen on the faces of the mothers—radiant at one and stricken at the other. They were, of course, very different occasions. I couldn’t help wishing that my own tradition included a great send off at the beginning of one’s journey, rather than only at the end, that my children might experience the blessing of their community, and hear their strengths reflected back to them in this life, when it might do them some good.

In the end, I think the similarity between these two services was in the way they made me feel coming home: grateful and awake. I want to keep that feeling in my daily life, to be more attentive to the people I love, more present, less concerned about my own schemes and schedules and more focused on being of service to others.

A rabbi once told me that in the Jewish tradition they always remember joy in times of great sorrow and sorrow in times of great joy, which is why the Bat Mitzvah ended with Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer. That somehow makes sense to me. Life is short. We are only visitors. It’s good to remember that.