I had the opportunity very recently to spend a weekend teaching about some of our aging and baby boomer work at Congregation Sinai in Milwaukee.
As part of the weekend I had the opportunity to spend much of one day with the residents of Chai Point, part of the Jewish Home and Health Center there. We had a lovely conversation with about two dozen residents. The discussion began with a look at a text, but quickly, as these things do, began to flow in a variety of directions. As the program began to wind down, the conversation focused on the issue of how important that community was to the people in that room. Many had survived major losses; a loved one, family members, etc. The people in attendance ranged from 70 years on up into the 90’s.
Several of the participants in the program stressed the importance of being in community. Some had the choice of remaining independent, living alone.. Yet, the fear of being alone and lonely kept coming up in our conversations. We unpacked the feelings of fear about being alone, about having no sustaining human contact and the resultant need for human connection that gave their lives a greater sense of meaning. Once again, these conversations validated the continuing body of research into the need for human interaction and how that need is so important as we ourselves grow older.
The popular literature also contains validation of this need. A recent New Yorker magazine contained an piece by Rogel Angell entitled “This Old Man.” In it, Angel discusses his life as a 90 something. As he concludes the piece, Angell wrote these very important words: “Getting old is the second biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night.”
The power and importance of community cannot be over-stated. It becomes so vital to our own sense of well being that we cannot ignore its’ meaning for each of us. No one wishes to be lonely. Celebrate your friends and family and if you know someone who lives alone, make sure you stop by and check in.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min