In her latest “Baby Boomer Bubbe” column for jewishsacredaging.com, Sandy wrote about suicide. The news about the rise in suicide has been in the press a lot between the concerns over the opioid crises and another round of celebrity deaths. Much has been written about a lack of meaning in one’s life coupled with mental health issues. In the Review section of Sunday June 24 New York Times, another thought piece was published that looked at the issue that again took stock of the challenge of finding meaning in life. Clay Routledge write this piece entitled “Suicides Are Up. Is This an Existential Crises?” It seems the answer is a resounding yes.
Routledge wrote: “In order to keep existential anxiety at bay, we must find and maintain perceptions of our lives as meaningful. We are a species that strives not just for survival, but also significance. We want lives that matter. It is when people are not able to maintain meaning that they are most psychologically vulnerable.” Routledge goes on to remind us of the power of social inter-action and relationships. That reminded me of an issue that keeps coming up in talks that I give and in many of the podcasts that we produce for our weekly “Seekers of Meaning” podcasts. Isolation. It is possible to feel this sense of isolation at any time of life. This sense of being cut off from society and one’s self seems to be a major contributing factor in the rise of suicides and we see this especially relevant with elders. The mental health challenges brought on by isolation have been well documented and this will be a continuing challenge for society. Indeed, there are also studies that support the benefit of being a member of a religious community as a means of countering the sense of isolation. Again, we seem to see that in community, social inter-action and on-going relationships we can find a means through which we can find a sense of belonging and meaning. Frank, in his classic “Man’s Search for Meaning” anticipated some of the discussion when he noted that the question of “what is the meaning of life” is the wrong question. Rather, he maintained that the right approach is to ask how can I “live” my life so it has meaning.
That search is on-going. We know many Boomers who, as we age, seek out new avenues of living. They remain “seekers”. Dr, Marc Agronin, in his recent book “The End of Old Age”* sees this search for meaning as a direct result of having a purpose in life. He writes that: “having a sense of purpose has a direct positive impact on health and longevity”. He feels that purpose yields meaning and, as the aging of our community continues, we need to have these discussions of how to engage all people in that search for each individual purpose. Behind all of this is the need to continue these discussions on aspects and causes of suicide and to make it more public so as to reduce stigma and inform a community that, in many ways, greets this issue with denial. This will remain a continuing challenge.
Rabbi Richard F Address
*: DeCapo Press. Hachette Book Group,. New York. 2018..
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.