The number 86,400 defines our time slot in one day. Within this seemingly large span of time, we have the potential to build and improve each day or utterly destroy it. Over time, seconds tend to pile up, some wasted and unnoticed and others misused and neglected; we frequently extend these seconds of regretted decisions and poor judgments into minutes, days, and weeks. It is only during the final days before entering a new year that we stop and reflect upon the seconds, both the happiest and most miserable, that had passed before us. The ways in which we choose to spend these seconds, while commonly taken for granted, truly shape us.
One year ago, I realized that the seconds we waste in life are not renewable resources-- life can change in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, the horrifying consequence of taking time for granted entered my life, unannounced and unexpectedly. Last summer, I traveled to my second home at Camp Ramah Darom, the largest Jewish summer camp in Clayton, Georgia, anticipating my fourth consecutive summer there with my friends. Upon our arrivals, all seventy-two of us reunited and reacquainted immediately, sharing stories of our academic year and already searching for ways to lead our camp as the “Gesher” eidah (age group). Among the unique group was Andrew Silvershein, a sixteen-year old aspiring musician, avid writer, and a South Florida resident that we all referred to as “Sunshine” because of his optimism and unremitting friendliness. None of us knew, however, that our first reunion as seventy-two campers would be our last.
During our three day camping trip to the Ocoee River in Southern Tennessee, one of the rafts which held seven Gesher boys overturned on a class three rapid. While the six other boys safely returned to land, Andrew’s foot was wedged underneath a rock; he was pulled under water for approximately eight minutes too long and passed away that afternoon, after being rushed to a local hospital. My eidah, camp, and Jewish community at large were left in utter shock that day. I will never forget that long afternoon, waiting and praying around the campsite alongside my friends. I will never forget the formidable silence that engulfed us for hours that evening and the endless seconds of grief that followed. I will never forget the countless times during which my friends and I angrily looked up at the sky and doubted God’s omniscience and loyalty to His own creation. However, through tear-filled eyes, my friends and counselors saw an entire Jewish community waiting for us back at camp, with open arms and words of comfort. Most importantly, I will never forget the life impacting grieving and growing process my camp had undergone that summer, and how I never would have been able to overcome this alone. Today, Andrew’s memory will forever remain a blessing; it serves a reminder to us that not a single second in life should ever be wasted.
While this tragedy was out of anyone’s control, it still sparks moments where I wish I had taken better advantage of Andrew’s short time in my life. His burgeoning passion for music and songwriting was undeniable; it should have been elevated each and every day, rather than simply noticed. Too many seconds passed where I stayed silent while watching Andrew share his talents. Too many seconds of potential conversations, laughter, learning opportunities, and friendship building disappeared without my awareness. As I prepare to embark upon another new year filled with spiritual seeking and question forming, I will never forget the seldom encounters I had with Andrew, but more importantly—I will never forget the ones I could not have, for I let them slip out of my hands.
In Pirkei Avot (Avot 1:6), or “Ethics of the Fathers,” we are taught the value of forming memorable relationships. "Make for yourself a teacher and acquire for yourself a friend, and judge each person favorably." How could I have created a more unique friendship to Andrew? How do we acquire the friendships we carry so strongly with others today? How do we preserve our relationships with others? Moreover, how do we take the given number of seconds per day and ensure that they will be implemented toward building these relationships?
After a life-changing summer, I arrived at one conclusion to these questions: never remain silent. In order to acquire the great friendships, we must take advantage of every second that would have otherwise remained empty. If we come across any person who emits light that can brighten a room, we must not let that person walk forward alone. If we encounter a potential friend with a hobby worth sharing, we must not prolong an opportunity to approach him. Lastly, if life presents us with an opportunity to chazak v’nitchazek, strengthen and be strengthened by another person, we must never let silence overpower us. By remaining silent during the times we are called to speak, it is as if we are taking a clock and erasing precious time. And because life can change in the blink of an eye, every second must be treated like an opportunity.
Despite the celebrations and obstacles we may face without warning, there is still an inexorable truth in life: we still have 86,400 seconds tomorrow. The events in our lives may construct or destruct our faith, but the time we have each day to react is the everlasting constant in our control. Perhaps if I had transformed a moment of silence into an hour of dialogue, I would have connected to an optimistic friend in more ways than I already had. If too many seconds of today were misused in your clock, then let us focus on tomorrow and the potential for success it brings. As we approach a new year, may we take this short amount of time each day to improve both our relationships and our global community by overcoming silence.