Ah, the first chapter of Rabbi Dayle Friedman’s remarkable book, Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older ~ ~ Seeking Wisdom – transcending destructive ageism. And with reading it comes many thoughts of my mother, Katherine Reynolds Lockhart:
Alongside the societal ageism that surrounds us is our own internalized ageism. … We cannot enjoy the present moment because we are filled with fear about what will come next. ~ ~ Mom was blessed with a very different view of being elderly than what’s described here. She maxed every day. As she put it in The Velveteen Grammie, “When I was a young whippersnapper of 50 and 60, I did not think much about what life would be like if I lived to be a ripe old age. If I had, it would have fallen short of the mark, nowhere near what my experience has been, especially as I tripped the “old”ometer into my nineties. … Managing to get to 90 relatively sound of heart, mind and body (or any one or more of those three) indicates some grit.” My mother was able to appreciate the present moment because THAT was where she lived.
We need a more complex way of holding what for most of us will be a long journey beyond midlife. My teachers, the elders I accompanied as a chaplain through the terrain of frailty and dependency, have taught me that their territory is about more than loss and sadness. They’ve taught me, and I am suggesting here on their behalf that we can experience growth, blessing, learning, and contribution, even as we contend with illness or disability. ~ ~ Or, as Mom states, “There are many things that my physical condition keep me from doing, but there are a lot of new experiences just waiting to be given a whirl. On the physical level, life stinks. On almost every other level – emotional, mental, spiritual – the world is my oyster and every month has an R!”
We can transcend ageism and false dichotomies by embracing aging. We can greet the long, complex post-midlife period with curiosity and compassion instead of dread and despair. We start with ourselves and then, fortified by acceptance, we can begin to transform the landscape of growing older for our communities and our world. ~ ~ Mom’s point of view on the bodacious aspects of aging – “Looking back, the toughest years were when my energies were beginning to flag and my body started slowing down. The proprium – sense of self – feels threatened as it becomes clear that an individual is far more than just the sum of physical parts. … Ideally, the concepts of physical being, of time and relationships, are liberated as we get older and older.”
Rabbi Judah Loew, a 16th-century sage, suggest that aging offers a unique opportunity – – “As we age, we become wiser…as our physical faculties are weakened, our spiritual faculties gain strength – spiritual independence, or exalted intellect, which flows from the Holy One.” ~ ~ Back to Mom – “Dependency has turned out to have unique blessings. A passage from the book Still Here by Ram Dass expresses my experience over the past year – “When there is true surrender and service between people, the roles of helper and helped, and the boundaries between those in power and those who are powerless, begin to dissolve.” That has been my experience with my daughter and son-in-law and with, it seems, most of the other people in my life – the old limiting boundaries have begun to dissolve.”
Our bodies may change and face limits, but our souls become unbounded. ~ ~ Mom – “Moving out of that hanging-on state to one of accepting that the body is a temporary shelter designed to house our eternal soul could be compared to moving out of darkness and confusion toward lightness and the Light. ”
Gaining wisdom is, according to Theodore Roszak, “what the elder mind seems especially empowered to do.” ~ ~ “A friend urged me to write about old age and make all the younger folks envious of us Ancients. Growing old, even some of the sadder aspects of it, is part of the Lord’s grand scheme. Let go of time-bound prejudices and fears of growing older. Marianne Williamson says that to get to the light, a person has to work through the darkness. In middle and early old age, life can seem dark and scary as we move out of the familiar into the unknown. Work through it toward the light.” KRL
If wisdom is a way of relating what we have experienced and learned to the reality we face, then how does growing older allow us to hone wisdom? … we gain wisdom as we challenge ourselves about what it is we think we know, both about our past and about our present. The qualities of curiosity and humility help us remain open to this evolving process of gaining perspective. ~ ~ “A key lesson learned over the past few years is that even unhappy events can bring unexpected opportunities. Going back to Margery Williams’ book, if the Boy had not gotten sick, if the beloved but germ-infested Rabbit was not doomed to be burned, if he had not been able to wriggle a bit to get out the sack, if great sadness had not caused a real tear to trickle down his shabby velvet nose, the Rabbit would not have come at that time into the fullness of being REAL.” KRL
Roszak suggests that health crises can be a rite of passage in later life because they impose a “suspension of the ordinary.” … As unwelcome as these challenges are, it is precisely in facing them that we can deepen our wisdom. … In the heightened reality of a health crisis, we have an opportunity to be transformed, to enhance our appreciation of the simplest blessings in our lives, and to shift the way we relate to ourselves and others. ~ ~ “For whatever reason, growing feeble, infirm and even forgetful is part of the Lord’s grand scheme. As I edge closer toward triple digits, it is easier to let go of time-bound prejudices and expectations.” KRL
Oh, to make Cyber Access for the Technically Timid more than just a wish! But people respond to my pleas the way Mom would have – with self-deprecating derision. sigh…
Mom would NEVER have shared her memories, her long-ago experiences, her thoughts & even opinions if she hadn’t inadvertently slipped into it through being involved in an online discussion about her church – she HAD to go online (via me) or be left out of the conversation. But as more & more people expressed appreciation of her insights, her experiences, her personal knowledge of long past events, Mom became more & more accepting that maybe she DID have something of value to give to others, even things as simple as telling tales of long-gone friends or present-day family.
Thanks to those blessed last 18 months of her life, I can share not only how Rabbi Friedman’s writing puts me in mind of my mother, I can use what MOM herself wrote that seems relevant to passages.
Oh, to be able to give the wondrous gift of having a loved one’s wisdom (how Mom would have scoffed at that word, yet how true it is) & presence with us always!
Check over on Rx for Caregivers for my Top Ten quotes or phrases from Chapter One!