“Aging is not just a process that can be measured or a population that can be counted, plotted, and tracked.” So wrote Dr. Fernando A. Guerra in a collection of essays entitled (Aging, Biotechnology, and the Future” (Johns Hopkins Press). With increasing frequency, we are seeing attempts to study, plot and track us as we age. Trends are nice.
However, what is also real is that each of us enter this stage as out own independent human beings, with our own distinct traits, personalities and family histories. What seems to be quite clear, however, is that with life expectancy growing and medical technology providing more life enhancing possibilities; we are having the gift of time being given to us in ways never before imagined. With that gift is coming increased opportunities for personal growth as well as increased challenged in areas of care-giving and economic stability.
With the first wave of baby boomers now entering the 62-65 year old arena, the real spiritual questions of life’s meaning and purpose increase. I am seeing this all over as I travel for my work doing workshops and programs at synagogues and organizations. Rather than slowing down, so many of us are going full speed, but often in different arenas. Many of us are not buying into so many pre-conceived notions that at this age it is best to “slow down”. Adding to this new sense of adventure is the growing research that seems to indicate that our brains are quite capable of adding information and experiences. Barbara Strauch writes in her new book The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain (Viking Press. 2010) “There are recent findings, too, that show how the middle-aged brain–rather than giving up and giving in–adapts. As we age, our brains power up, not down, and use more of themselves to solve problems.”
In Judaism, this sense of vitality in aging, of adapting and growing, is part of who we are. The opportunity to engage in mitzvot is not age specific. Indeed, the entire system of mitzvot speaks to the understanding that engaging in and with people and the work of the world actually has health benefits. Life is with people, connections to meaning are experienced via community. The challenges of life and the invitations of life to grow and expand our own sense of who we are await all of us. I hope each of us has the chance courage to explore these connections and moments of meaning.
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.