Summer just seems to be starting, and somehow, I am stuck in the middle of two realities: The Winnipeg Folk Festival last weekend, and a jarring reminder that the High Holidays are only 9 weeks away. Yikes!

On Friday, a musical artist at a Folk Fest workshop stage referred to well-known advice when we step into the natural outdoors: “Leave it in better shape than when you entered.” I immediately thought about how this would be a great way to live one’s life.

To my surprise, he applied that notion instead to past relationships — leave the other person in better shape than before you met them. Hmm.

It feels weird and awkward, the idea that we have responsibility for failed relationships as well as those that are successful. But then again, maybe it’s something we can think about as we work to better ourselves (which is the whole point of the High Holidays).

We do live in a community after all, with thousands of lines connecting us to everyone around us, past and present. We draw or redraw those lines every day of our lives, and some deepen and some fade away. Whether it be friends or acquaintances, work or volunteer colleagues, or people I have met while traveling, these all qualify as relationships. Invariably, I have kept many and left many behind, some intentionally, some inadvertently, and others just because, some easily and others with pain. And others have done the same with me.

I have invariably grown as a result. But I haven’t really thought about those other people. If I’ve grown, so have they. They’re also in better shape afterwards. I don’t really need to focus on their negatives once they’re gone, but I can consider the positives and the growth that happened on the way in, and during. and on the way out. The reality is that we have our own stories to tell and live, and so do they. If I have become a better person for the experience, so have they, no matter how the last chapters played out.

Personally, I quite like the “nature hike rule” as a way of guiding not only my relationships but also my relationships and how I would like to live my life – in ways that make the world a better place when I finally leave it than it was when I first arrived.

I might just make this my personal framing for my own High Holiday journey this year.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Allan