Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.
To say that life is strange is to undermine the value of life. Perhaps there are things that occur seeming to be strange, but in essence the strange aspects contain surprises we never expected or even anticipated. Perhaps our description should include words like unusual, or unfamiliar. I would go even further and describe them as exotic or mysterious.
These thoughts, and more, came to mind as I entered a phase in my life encompassing the number 80. I remember very vividly a member at a congregation I served who was approaching that magic number and was crying uncontrollably. I asked him why he was in tears, and his reply remained with me to this day, and even resonates more today. His answer: “I am now at the end.”
I was in my 20s and did not really comprehend his comment or the thoughts bringing him to this sadness. In those days, this age not only represented a milestone, but also defied statistics. Today, longevity seems to be a given. Even more so, it is not an end, but rather a new chapter in a journey that takes us into uncharted waters.
I look at the years, not as a detriment, but rather as lessons in the mystery of survival. Life, as we know it, is something we do not understand, and perhaps never will. We read prosaic notions about the breath of life, or the miracle of birth, or the majestic mystery of creation, and still we find it difficult to comprehend the enormity of birth.
I think about the time we seemed to be vital and energetic, and even daring. Now we, for the most part, are afraid to travel life’s road. Once we stood tall in the sunshine, now we look for shade. Our days seem to blend with other days, and the nights never end.
I believe that exotic and mysterious are the most wonderful expressions about our travels into a new dimension called maturity. We are more vital and still have so much more to offer. We are essential to our friends and family. Most of all we need to realize that we are indispensable to ourselves. To age requires grace and dignity because we have an advantage few have enjoyed. The generations that preceded us could never think in terms of numbers because the numbers we so small.
I believe that to remain young requires us to remain relevant. We have outlasted some friends, but we have gained new ones. Groucho Marx once remarked that at a certain time in our life we go to bed hoping that we will feel better in the morning. Now we go to bed hoping there will be a morning. On the surface it may seem funny, but if we concentrate on the end rather than the continuation, we will have defeated the value of our endurance.
When we were younger we had dreams. Now some of those dreams may have been realized. But our obligation is to continue dreaming. We may occasionally fall back to thinking about and reminiscing about those days long gone, but now more than ever we need to remind ourselves of our vibrancy, our usefulness and our relevance.
Yes, life may be strange and we may fall back to the thoughts of those were the days, but to remain in that vegetated frame of mind truly undermines the value of life; 80 is not some magical number, rather it is a number in the flow of time; 80 is not the end of the road, but rather a number that helps us understand that best is yet to be. We may have a pain or two, but hopefully they will go away. We may face defeats, but victories lie in our perseverance and determination. We may lose a friend or family member, but memories can sustain us.
Life, to whatever extent, is to live and the reminder given to us, the rainbow in the rain filled sky, was, and is intended to do exactly what God intended it to do – give us hope!