What happens when you become that which you disdained, didn’t comprehend and secretly feared? Everyone ages alone, but our society insists, in too many instances, you also age isolated. And disease completes the enclosure and separation. As the aged cease to be a reflection of the parts of ourselves we can admire and emulate we often excuse their infirmity by ignoring their humanity.
The elderly know this. Particularly as they show signs of age, then physically lose ability, and mentally cognitive sharpness declines as they become not only less useful but less admirable and relatable.
But, their sensitivity to life’s difficulties increases, along with their genuine humility and empathy. Their accumulated life experience becomes integrated into perceptions of reality expressed simply and cogently.
A tragedy of our admiration of youth is our devotion to its faults: overly focused on sexuality and appearance, overlooking deep humanity and clear vision. The elderly have often achieved that for which we aim, but we don’t ask them how. We fear the physical aspects of what they have become, identifying them with their infirmity rather than their strengths.
Perhaps we can reap the benefits of age, and reward the elderly rather than isolating them, and even refocus our values to embrace that which we, with God’s grace, will eventually achieve.
Every life has lived an important story. All you have to do is ask.
In asking we not only accept them as people, we also explore a way forward for ourselves. We lose our rejection of aging by exploring the lives of those who have successfully climbed this mountain before us, and whose wisdom may bless us as well.
Rabbi Mark H. Levin is a native of Baltimore, Maryland. Graduated in 1971 from Boston University, magna cum laude with distinction in religion, Rabbi Levin received his Master of Arts in Hebrew letters from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in 1974, his Certificate in Jewish Communal Studies in 1974(L.A.), and was ordained in 1976 (Cincinnati).
Most recently, Rabbi Levin completed his Doctorate of Hebrew Letters through HUC-JIR in New York in May, 2001, and his honorary Doctor of Divinity in 2001 in Cincinnati. He has been the congregational Pulpit Rabbi for Congregation Beth Torah since its inception in 1988 up until his retirement from this position in June 2014. In July 2014 he accepted the position of Beth Torah’s Founding Rabbi.
Rabbi Levin is the father of three children and grandfather of one child. He is married to the former Kacy Childs-Winston, the mother of Kyle and Seth Winston. Rabbi Levin serves on several local boards and writes religion columns for the Kansas City Star, and answers questions for the “Ask the Rabbi” service of the Union of Reform Judaism. To email Rabbi Levin, firstname.lastname@example.org.