Self-Renewal

We have pointed out that
even though problems may not change, a person changes, and when a person
changes, his experience of his problems changes. This means that even a problem
that won’t go away may become much easier to live with in the course of time
because it may simply lose its importance in a later stage of life.

In the midrash, Chazal use the eagle as a symbol of spiritual
powers. The eagle, they tell us, renews himself every ten years. Every ten years
it flies high toward the sun, burns off its feathers and wings, falls into the
ocean and grows new wings and new feathers. Ten years later it does the same
thing until it is a hundred years old. At the age of one hundred, it loses it
capacity for self–renewal and dies. According to this, the eagle renews itself
every ten years. And, indeed, every decade of a persons life is different. He,
too, is renewed every ten years. Many of the problems that burden an adolescent
aren’t going to mean much to him by the time he is thirty even if the problem
hasn’t gone away. He has simply outgrown the problem. With the passing of
time, he changes, and that puts a new perspective on old problems.

But even before the passing of years changes us so that we
bring a new perspective to old problems, our experience of problems changes all
the time. Shlomo Hamelech tells us in Koheles that there is a time to
cry and a time to laugh, a time to build and a time to destroy
. A person
goes through many different situations in the course of life. Every week and
even every day presents him with new situations. And there may be situations in
which an otherwise distressing problem simply disappears. A person who lives
alone and suffers from deep feelings of loneliness may find that at simchas it
all just goes away. True, after the simcha it’s a lonely ride home but for
those few hours his problem disappeared. When a person has problems, he should
welcome situations which relieve him of his problem. Be happy when you can be
happy. Sometimes people hold onto their problems and use them to avoid
situations which would enable them to let their problems go. They feel too
lonely to go to the simcha—even though going would make them feel better.
Sometimes people hold on to their pain and make their problem worse by doing
that.

The eagle gets new wings and new feathers after it falls into
the sea. Sometimes a negative situation does not change. A person may become
blind, for example. He is never going to see again. But in the course of time,
his hearing is going improve. He’ll develop new sensitivities and a stronger
sense of intuition. G-d will compensate his loss of sight by strengthening his
other senses. Sometimes the negative is compensated by positive gifts that a
person didn’t have before—like the eagle that lost its feathers. Those
feathers are gone. But because he lost his feathers, he was able to grow new
feathers and these new feathers would carry him into the sky until, ten years
later, they too, would burn as they lifted him into the face of the sun. One way
of accommodating ourselves to negative situations is to appreciate the new “feathers”
made possible or brought about by the negative situation. “Those whose hope is in G-d will have renewed
strength” (Yeshayahu 40:31). Sometimes a person’s hope is not that he’ll
recover the powers that he lost, but that he’ll find new powers to compensate
him for the ones he lost. There’s always something to compensate for the
negativity in any situation.

For example, a person develops a heart condition. He was a
very active and busy person. He used to work 15 hours a day. And now he has to
stay at home and take it easy. It might be a hard transition to make, but it has
its good side. Now he has time to learn how to paint, to play music, to do other
things he couldn’t do before. Now, because of something negative that has
limited his activity and changed his life, he has the opportunity to do many of
the things that he always wanted to do. In negative situations, a person should
try to be aware of what might be open to him now that wasn’t open to him
before: New powers, new avenues of expression, new things to get involved in—good
things that are there for him now because of something negative that happened to
him.

Sometimes a negative situation makes us aware of different
ways of leading a positive life—new ways that either were not available, were
out of reach or just had no appeal until our lives were changed by the necessity
of coping with a negative situation.