I just finished reading the new Parker Palmer book “On The Brink Of Everything”. Lots to think about. Transitions are a challenge! He wrote this as he reflected on eight decades of life, feeling gratitude for the gift that is life. In a section that speaks to the need to stay engaged in life, he reflects n becoming an elder. He laments the societal message that is sent that it is “time to withdraw from serious engagement” in such a rapidly changing world. To listen to this message is, as he writes , to rob folks of sources of “vitality, meaning and purpose”. Likewise, listening to this message of withdrawing from society “robs the world of the gifts elders have to offer” Palmer writes that when he is with elders whose world has “shrunk to the dimensions of their TV room–and who have no health problems to limit their mobility–it’s as if I’m with the walking dead. But when I am with elders who have a mind-and-heart connection with the world beyond their walls, I find their vitality contagious, even if they are confined to their homes.” (p.116)
As so many of us enter “elder-hood” (whatever that may mean) we will be faced with many challenges. Some of us have already begun to walk that path. Again, we are reminded that we have the power to choose how we walk this walk. Palmer is reminding us, as does Jewish tradition, that as long as we have life, we have the power to choose how we live. The challenges in those choices may be daunting, but we still have that power.
A while ago, at some conference or talk, someone, as we were discussing this thing called being an elder, send me the following poem/meditation on just this issue. It seems to have come from The Live Oak Project® in California. It was written by Debby and Barry Barkan. It is a nice mediation for us, especially as summer embraces us and our Jewish souls prepare to turn to the month of Elul and the coming of another New Year. Enjoy.
DEFINITION OF AN ELDER
An Elder is a person
who is still growing
still a learner,
still with potential
and whose life continues to have
within it promise for, and
connection to the future.
An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy, and pleasure,
and her or his birthright to these
Moreover, and Elder is a person
who deserves respect and honor and
whose work it is to synthesize wisdom
from long life experience and to
formulate this into a legacy
for future generations.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.