Saturday, November 15, 2003

Rabbi Harold Kushner's Special Message for National Hospice Month

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner speaks with a quiet, thoughtful authority on matters that affect the deepest parts of the human spirit. On November 18, the public will have a rare chance to hear his inspirational message in person.

Kushner, author of international, award-winning best sellers, and a highly sought-after motivational speaker, will share his thoughts at 7 p.m. at the Harborside Event Center. The evening is sponsored by Hope Hospice and Palliative Care.

"This free presentation by Rabbi Kushner is our gift to the community," said Hope Hospice President and CEO, Samira K. Beckwith. "The people of southwest Florida have been very good to us, with their gifts and their time, so this is our way of saying thank you."

Kushner, 68, said by telephone from Los Angeles where he is on a book tour that he looks forward to returning to Fort Myers. He has twice vacationed in the area. and spent his 35th anniversary on Sanibel.

"I will be talking about my book, "Living a Life that Matters, Resolving the Conflict Between Conscience and Success," and tie that into my new book, "The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm," he said. Those books, plus his 1981 landmark spiritual classic, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," can be thought of, in part, as guidelines to living the best possible lives, so that at the end we can face death with the least amount of regret.

Kushner said one of the best things about hospice care is, "When you are in the valley of the shadow of death you are not alone. That's the wonderful thing about hospice, you are not alone - and if I can be so bold, I believe hospice workers are incarnations of God."

In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened," Kushner said. Those at the end of their lives in hospice sometimes have a chance to make amends for damage they've done to family or friends. Kushner spoke to how a person can live so that at their death they can die without overwhelming fear, frustration, regret or guilt.

"Hospice encourages people to take care of unfinished business, to reconcile, to say goodbye, to thank those they need to thank. Secondly, when you look back on your life you realize even if haven't done everything perfectly, you've probably done some things well. With little effort you can probably remember that you have made suggestions or done small acts of kindness that have changed someone else's life."

Kushner also spoke about the importance of making the right moral choices. "Humans need to know their lives have had an impact on the world around us. It's tempting to compromise our moral standards in order to achieve some sense of importance," Kushner said.

"We have a craving for significance, the need to know that our lives and our choices mean something. We sometimes do great things, and sometimes terrible things to reassure ourselves that we matter to the world. We sometimes confuse fame, power, and wealth with true achievement. But finally we need to think of ourselves as good people, and we are troubled when we compromise our integrity in the pursuit of what we think of as success.

 "The Talmud says, 'to repent one day before your death.' That means to keep in shape every day. The rule would be to live in such a way that if something happened tomorrow you would die with a minimum of regret."

Beckwith said Kushner's presentation is the keynote event for National Hospice Month, which is each November. It was Beckwith's idea to bring Kushner to Fort Myers. She said she had originally met the rabbi when he was speaking in North Dakota years ago.

"What a wonderful message he gave in 'When Bad Things Happen to Good People.' It was one of the most read and well-utilized pieces of advice. The title says it all. People say, 'why me, poor me' because Americans only think death is optional. If you do the right thing, eat the right food, you can somehow bargain and nothing bad will ever happen to us or those we love. Then it's a shock when life happens."

In her professional life Beckwith recommends the book, and even keeps copies on hand to hand out.

"I utilize the advice and share the advice all the time for families and situations. That's one of the great joys in working in hospice, to help them focus on what you can do, not on what you can't do."

"I wanted to invite Rabbi Kushner to this community for the last few years. I saw him on Larry King Live a few months ago, but I actually started worked on getting on his calendar a year ago."

"This is right before the holidays, when it's difficult for people who have experienced loss. This is a perfect time for Rabbi Kushner to speak to us because he is so helpful and his message and presence is so helpful to people."

Harborside Event Center, in downtown Fort Myers, has a capacity of 3,000.

"We wanted one central, convenient location, and thought with that large capacity we didn't have to have the event for only a chosen few," Beckwith said.

Kushner will be available to sign The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm, which will be for sale at the venue.

What: Speaking engagement
When: Nov. 18, 7 p.m.
Where: Harbourside Event Center
Sponsor: Hope Hospice