One of the great inevitabilities of life is its expiration date. An optimistic outlook erases the sting; the prophecy of the end serves as an invitation to live. If our existence were endless, would action not be replaced with an infinite cycle of tomorrows? We get one finite chance, one shot, to take our gifts and talents and make a positive change in the world—to accept our potentials as an opportunity, not a liability, and compose a song that reverberates through the heavens as a life that was lived melodiously.

With birth, the die is cast. Existence has been set into motion, and so too it will come to a close. We should not despair. The tragedy doesn’t lie in this end. The tragedy exists only if we fail to live.

If our existence were endless, would action not be replaced with an infinite cycle of tomorrows?I have a love-hate relationship with flying. I hate the looming threat of a crash, G‑d forbid, but I love the reminder that life is fleeting. As a child, I manufactured schemes to persuade my family to cancel trips requiring air travel. With the latch of a silver clasp and the oxygen mask demonstration, my destiny was sealed. Like a straitjacket, they had me strapped in against my will; at six years old, phobias are cast into the bottomless pit of nonsensical complaints alongside the boogey man and the dentist. I developed coping mechanisms, including (but not limited to) memorizing every word of the emergency pamphlet, playing Hangman on the vomit bag, bouncing my knee to distract myself from the turbulence, staring at the wing to be sure it hadn’t dislodged, and visiting the cockpit (in pre-9/11 air travel) to assess the pilot’s competency; once, to my horror, he was playing gin rummy with the co-captain. Strangely, none of my methods left me with any assurance that I’d hear the sweet words, “Welcome to ——.”

Deeper reflection gave me some solace. I realized that there was peace to be found in doing whatever I could to fulfill my potential on the aircraft. In my naivete I believed that I could avert an unfavorable decree by making the most of those hours in the air. But what exactly was that potential? The answer was simple and intrinsic—kindness.

The world exists out of kindness towards others. A basic understanding of astronomy is enough to make anyone question the possibility of the fate of our existence—we are but a mere speck in a galactic frontier that includes billions upon trillions of stars and planets. Despite our transience and apparent insignificance, we have a deep and meaningful purpose that only we can fulfill—one that cannot be ignored. Our very existence hinges upon G‑d’s kindness and faith in our potentials, and it is our responsibility to emulate this divine quality by investing a genuine interest in the wellbeing of others. This is accomplished through our interactions, our compassion and our empathy—ideals that know no limitations of time, space or altitude. These gifts are not transitory; they are eternal. And just as we receive them from our Creator, we have the responsibility to give them to others.

I emerged from my seat and started making acquaintances. Not wanting to annoy sleeping passengers, I gravitated to the flight attendants. I spent hours in discussion, listening to their tales of travel and fruitless relationships, and questioning the hazards of turbulence. They gave me chips and a pair of silver wings, and just like that, we were friends despite the forty-year age gap. The cabin was transformed into a dwelling place for camaraderie. With the safe landing, I was convinced I had uncovered the great secret of the universe.

As I reflect on my growth in conquering air travel, I’m pleased with the evolution. Sure, I’m still terrified at every moment and instinctively grab the passenger next to me, but there is an underlying faith that if my life is meant to end over the Rocky Mountains, I accept it as G‑d’s will. My responsibility is not a preoccupation with the end, but a devotion to the journey.

My responsibility is not a preoccupation with the end, but a devotion to the journeyRecently, I journeyed yet again. Armed with a boarding pass, my eyes surveyed the travelers in the terminal. A young man stood out to me amidst the sea of black business suits and Western garb. His long beard couldn’t conceal an obvious frustration—earlocks swaying back and forth as he shook his head at the monitor. The flight was significantly delayed. Nearby, his wife waited anxiously with their small child. We eventually boarded, and before I knew it, we were 30,000 feet above the rest of humanity. The world beneath us could have crumbled into oblivion, but the passengers on that 747 would never have known it.

I was seated in the last row of the plane, notorious for its bumpiness and general claustrophobia. I hopped out of my seat and decided to make friends with the flight attendants, a nod to the memories of my youth when chips and silver wings accompanied meaningful conversation. As we spoke, the man I spotted in the terminal moved past me and disappeared into the small bathroom. A few minutes later, he emerged and shuffled toward the aisle. Before he could pass me, my eyes darted to a stack of plastic cups on the drink cart. I reached for one and handed it to him, knowing he would need it for the ritual handwashing. “Would you like to wash your hands?” I asked. Immediately, his expression morphed into joy. His eyes sparkled as he accepted the cup with a smile that revealed the dialogue of his heart. “I would! Thank you so much!” he replied. We spoke for almost an hour as he told us of his travels, experiences living in Australia and recommendations for good kosher restaurants. He returned to his seat, and I continued speaking with the flight attendants. They expressed surprise that the “weirdly dressed man” was so friendly. They wondered how I knew about the “strange cup ritual” and “bizarre eating habits.”

I spent the remainder of the flight dispelling these flight attendants’ preconceived notions about Judaism. I explained the reason why men and women limit their interactions, and why they should not be offended if someone appears unfriendly. I taught them about the laws of kosher eating, Shabbat, and why we wash after using the restroom. It was fascinating to me that with all their life experience and travels across the globe, their impression was defined only by what they had perceived as a lack of kindness. Sadly, they made the choice to respond to such passengers with unfriendliness, perpetuating a cycle built on misperceptions. With the new insights gained from our conversation, that cycle had ended.

They expressed surprise that the “weirdly dressed man” was so friendlyAs the captain announced our descent, I returned to my seat, realizing with some sorrow that the precious opportunity had come to a close. We were leaving that special place that comes only when you’re 30,000 feet above the hustle and bustle of existence, that sacred space where I have always felt so close to my Creator, so dependent on His kindness and so responsible for my own. I closed my eyes and said the prayer of the Shema, arriving at my destination safely. As I said my goodbyes, I prayed that my words penetrated the hearts of the flight attendants, that they might come to see Judaism for what it is—something beautiful, meaningful and special. I prayed that the chassidic man would remember that a bad day is fixed with a smile and a genuine interaction.

I emerged from the plane unable to conceal the kind of grin you get when the hand of irony taps you delicately on the shoulder. For all the life that’s been lived, I’m still that same six-year-old child, convinced that kindness is the untold secret of our existence.