When do I stop watching coming attractions?

I have been absent for a while. I thought when I stopped practicing law and mediation, and completed ordination, I would have lots of time to write, and exercise and play. None of that has happened. But today I am back.

I may have told you before. I love movies. Debbie and I have been going to the movies every week, sometimes more than once, since we got married. Having babies didn’t stop us. Only the pandemic slowed us down. As soon as we could, we started going at odd times so the theatre would be mostly empty, and we could take off our masks. Now we are starting to go back regularly again.

We love all kinds of movies. Well, not all kinds. I don’t like horror movies. We love movies from action to documentary, from animated (we have been the only adults without children at many Disney movies) to comedy, from western to mystery and everything in between. Many critics have lamented the onslaught of comic book and video game movies. I love them.

Movies give me that two-plus hours of escape from the world gone crazy. I love watching movies at home. When the world gets to me, I will watch Notting Hill. OK, I admit it, I love a rom com that makes me smile or cry, or both. But I really love going to the movies in the theatre. The theatre, as Nicole Kidman says, makes movies better.

And in the theatre, we get to see more than just the movie. We get to be excited by the trailers for the upcoming movies. At the last movie we went to, there was half an hour of coming attractions. I can’t wait to see most of them. I only hope the movies are as good as the trailers. Some of these coming attractions were for movies that won’t come out for more than a year. Marvel has already scheduled Phase 5 and 6, with release dates for the next 3 years. And it has yet unscheduled projects for at least a few years after that.

I am getting older. Yes, I know we are all always getting older. But now I am noticing it in my legs, in my back, in my eyes and in the mirror (how did my dad get here?). Time marches on and I am getting trampled. So, I watched these coming attractions this time and I had a thought. When I am 90 years old, at a Marvel movie, and the coming attractions are shown, how will I feel, knowing I may not be around to see the movie. Will I regret not being able to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 11? How will I deal with that, as I get closer to the inevitable?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said that the Torah considers old age a virtue and a blessing. In the Torah, “old” is synonymous with “wise” and we are commanded to respect all elderly, regardless of their scholarship and piety. He pointed out the contrast between Torah and the prevalent attitude in the 20th-century western world, where old age is a liability. Old age brings more self-reflection, and concerns as our physical abilities lessen. We may even start to believe the marketers who say old age is to be resisted with medicines and cover-ups and acquiring more things. But all those things, everything, can be taken away except one thing; to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, choose one’s own way, to paraphrase Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning.

The Talmud states that each Jew is obligated to say 100 blessings a day. Why? Because they remind us to acknowledge sacred moments, and some we might not normally consider sacred. Heschel taught that with the destruction of the Temple, we lost our collective sacred space. So, we shifted our collective focus to sacred time. When you are at a wedding, and it is already 15 minutes after it was scheduled to start, you might joke it is operating on Jewish time. But to live on Jewish time is to see each moment of each day we are alive as sacred and worthy of blessing.

We have read that God lays out the plan for how people are supposed to prepare for their lives. Through the teen years, the Jew should study the Bible, Mishnah, Mitzvot and Talmud. By twenty, the Jew’s life work begins, but he does not take positions of authority until age 30. Age 40 brings discernment, and by 50 the Jew is ready to counsel others. Not until age 60 is a man considered an elder and he is then endowed with special strength at age 80.  Aging might bring less physical strength or a slower body, but it also brings wisdom, which is a virtue and a blessing. What do we do with that wisdom? Certainly not withdraw or hide.

That wisdom can still guide our life decisions and show us how to create meaning. It can help us realize that our job is not the only thing that gives meaning, and it may help us find something new. In my case, I have sought meaning through Judaism. Judaism has actually given me a new vocation, as I start to practice Pastoral Rabbinics and help guide younger people through their studies. And I get to write columns to express my feelings that some of you can hopefully find relatable.

I used to make believe that I had total control over whatever was in my future and I still, probably mistakenly, think I did maintain a fair amount of control. But if moving along in my 70’s, and living through the pandemic emphasized anything, it is that we can’t and don’t control it all. Once we fully embrace that truth, it is actually easier to loosen the grip of horror of the unknown.

And what happens when I see the previews, fully accepting what has really always been true: that I may not be around to see the movie. As the previews were rolling this time, I turned to Debbie and asked, “when I reach that point, when I am sitting here at age 90, should I stop watching the previews?” “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, “you never stop watching previews. They create a future, for you to live into.” Great wisdom for us all. I am so lucky to have her share her wisdom with me.

Give someone the benefit of yours.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Carl, for another wonderful column. Don’t ever stop looking at the previews – Debbie is right (of course).

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