AGING WITH DIGNITY, PURPOSE & MEANING

Shabbat Sermon by Rabbi Kuhn, August 15, 2014

geroge carlinThe late, great comedian George Carlin had a great bit about aging. He said when you’re young, you can’t wait to get older. You become 21. But then you turn 30. Sounds like bad milk. He turned, we had to throw him out. You become 21, you turn 30, then you’re pushing 40. Whoa!! Put on the brakes, it’s all slipping away. Before you know it, you reach 50, and your dreams are gone. But wait! You make it to 60. You didn’t think you would.

Then you build up so much speed that you HIT 70! After that, it’s a day by day thing. You HIT Wednesday.

You get into your 80’s, and every day is a complete cycle. You HIT lunch; you turn 4:30; you reach bedtime.

And it doesn’t end there. Into the 90’s you start going backwards. I was just 92!

And so it goes. In our society that idolizes youth, it may be difficult to deal with the fact that everyone ages, if you’re lucky that is.

And of course, Judaism has a lot to say about aging with dignity, and finding meaning and purpose in your life as you grow older.

The Hasidic master, Reb Nachman of Bratslav said that Jews are forbidden to feel old. It’s one thing to live into the higher numbers chronologically, but Nachman tells us that we should not “feel” old.

So, age really is a feeling, an attitude, and approach to life. And of course, this is true no matter how old or young you are.

In our series of crowdsourcing sermons this summer, we have received some excellent comments on what aging means to us. And again, these thoughts are true for all of us, no matter how old you are or how old you feel.

The common thread that runs through all of your comments is that to live a good life, we need to live with a sense of gratitude. Feeling grateful to God for the gift of life is at the very heart of a meaningful and purpose-driven life.

There is a wonderful tradition in Judaism that we should say 100 Blessings every day. Baruch Atah Adonai, thank you God for allowing me to live another day.   Thank you God for the rainbow I just saw. Thank you God for giving me the love of my family, my friends. Thank you God for the sheer joy and comfort of being able to share each Shabbat with my congregational family, every Friday at 6:00.

If you say 100 Blessings a day, you won’t have time to feel old.

One of the most challenging comments I received from one of you was the statement that we should translate our gratitude into “gemilut chasadim” “deeds of loving kindness.”

That is such an essentially Jewish thought. We should be grateful for our many blessings, but we should also try to spread blessings among others.

Many people in our congregation enjoy the blessings of knowing how to eat healthy foods, to stay fit, can afford good medical care, can take real vacations. But many in our world, our nation, our very neighborhood cannot enjoy these blessings. We should work to try to improve the lives of those around us, through our Farmers’ Market on Sundays, and through the many “gemilut chasadim” (acts of loving kindness) of our Rise-Up Social Action efforts. A great way not to feel old is to reach out to help others.

People who are “retired” may have more time to help improve the lives of others.

The very word “retire’ is a challenging word. “Retire” means to withdraw, to retreat. It even means “to go to bed!” I hear people who say they retired from something. I used to be a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher.

But what are you now? Are you a nothing? I don’t think so. Each of us has a gift. A purpose. A meaning to our lives. And each of us has something we can give to others. The key to not feeling old is to remain active, mentally, physically and emotionally. The key to feeling young at heart is to be radically amazed by life (as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschell said).

Each of us is a teacher, and we are obligated to pass on the values we hold dear to the next generation. We hold the key to perpetuate Judaism, especially through our congregation whose mission it is to ensure the future of the Jewish people.

There are so many great examples of aging with dignity and purpose in our own congregation. There are so many of you who take advantage of our many opportunities to engage with each other in Jewish studies, in meaningful and uplifting prayer services, social action efforts, social events. By giving of yourself to build a stronger community, you gain so much in return.

But the single most important key to aging with meaning is to fulfill the need for love and deep attachment and connection with others. Emily’s parents, of blessed memory, had over 60 years of the most beautiful and close marriage I have ever seen. After my mother-in-law died, my father-in-law grieved her loss deeply for the rest of his life. But at the same time, he felt the need for close companionship. He developed a warm and loving relationship with an old friend, and this connection brought profound meaning into both of their lives.

Developing friendships, deep attachments with others is the most important blessing in any life, no matter how old or young you are. Surround yourself with friends, especially cheerful friends, and you will be more cheerful. And surround yourself with what you love: a pet, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies.

And every day, when you wake up, remember those magnificent words of our Torah, “Choose life.”

And as that great sage, George Carlin said “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”

And no matter your age, please treasure the time you have, and resolve to use it well, counting each moment as precious. A chance to apprehend some truth, to experience some beauty, to conquer some evil, to love and to be loved. And to achieve something of lasting worth.

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