Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot – Ethics of the Fathers Areader from
Netanya called last Friday to wish me a Happy New Year and then, unprompted,
launched into a little speech that struck me afterwards as having great
More than that, it seemed to contain a couple of life’s important
“I’m 90 now,” she said, “and I never thought old age could be so
rewarding. The dull routine of my boring life – there’s nothing routine about
it. It’s an everyday miracle.”
While personality clearly plays a part in
such a positive outlook, she conceded that her relatively good health was a
“My hearing isn’t what it used to be,” she confessed,
“nor my walking. My eyes are weak, and the stairs kill me. But, overall, I have
a sense of gratitude that I can do everything I need to.
“I love being
old,” she declared – a sentiment one doesn’t often come across. “Being 90 is
like having a birthday every day.”
A COMMON thing one hears in the weeks
building up to the New Year is how soon it’s come around again – too soon, is
the implication. The year seems to have flown by. Where, we ask, did it go? The
daily round, the endless must-do and mustacquire, takes up so much of our energy
and attention that we tend not to take much note of the weeks and months
passing. But when a landmark date like Rosh Hashana plants itself squarely in
our path, it’s hard to avoid the reality.
And to many in our Western
culture, that reality is dismaying, even threatening; the passing of time is, by
definition, a downhill journey all the way. To them, the aging process is a
thing to fear and ward off if one can; sometimes in rather ridiculous
BUT NOT to that Post
reader from Netanya.
Talking to her, I
got the notion – almost a mental picture – that she had long ago put her ear to
the ground, as it were, felt the pulsing rhythm of nature and decided to go with
its flow. Consciously or unconsciously, she had attuned herself to its changing
seasons and stayed in step.
And now, well-practiced in the dance, she had
arrived at old age, at which point embracing it joyfully was simply the most
natural thing for her to do.
Imagine if one felt little dread at the
thought of growing old, if there wasn’t that constant battle – energetically
fueled by the advertising industry and abetted by the media – to stave it off.
Wouldn’t one settle more comfortably into one’s skin and be more open to what
life (still) has to offer? Settling into one’s skin – young or old – doesn’t
mean not “making the most of oneself,” as an aunt of mine used to call it:
staying in shape, dressing becomingly and using, within reason, whatever is out
there to make oneself look, and consequently feel, good.
But let’s get
real. Modern Western society, infantile in many ways, worships youth and seems
to disdain age – so I wonder how many seniors, like my Netanya reader, “love
being old” and have the courage to say so.
MYSELF, the older I get, the
more I’ve come to see each passing year as a badge of survival, and hence
something to value greatly.
We live in truly “interesting times,” and the
assumption that any individual life will continue is not a safe betting
proposition. Perhaps it never has been. Our highways are too often death-traps,
and our foes lie in wait for the vigilance of our security forces to relax. Even
youth is no guarantee against serious illness.
When we do, nevertheless,
make it through yet another year, that is not so much a matter for
self-congratulation as it is reason to be thankful.
WHICH brings me to my
lovely caller’s second important secret: the ability to feel gratitude. “It’s
the key to a good life,” a friend commented when I told her about my Friday
I agree: because when one is grateful for what one has, one
is looking at the half of the glass that is full and not, as it is often
tempting to do, at the dismally empty half.
“Gratitude is empowering,”
commented another close friend. She has some serious health challenges, but is
sparkling company and her laugh is contagious.
She continued simply:
“I’ve always seen myself as being very fortunate. Gratitude focuses on what I’m
gaining, as opposed to what I’m losing.”
No one has everything they would
wish for – or, indeed, sometimes even much of it. But there is always the choice
of where to aim the spotlight: on what life has given us, or on what it has
To that extent, and provided we are not incurable pessimists,
happiness – or something very near it – is within our grasp.
until something goes wrong with one’s body that one realizes how blithely one
assumed it would always go on giving good service, like a loyal servant
constantly on duty.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslav said we should talk to our
limbs every day and thank them for working so hard for us.
isn’t as weird as it may sound; it says a lot about attitude, and about
It’s especially difficult for young people not to take their
health for granted. Too much is going on in their lives for them to reflect on
something so self-evident as their physical well-being – until something
A young friend of mine is still suffering considerable pain and
weakness from overuse of her hand and wrist during several weeks of waitressing
three months ago; the good to come out of that sobering experience is the
likelihood that she won’t in future be so complacent about her body’s efficient
PERHAPS this is a good time of year to reflect on the need
to express gratitude as often as we can: to family and friends for being there
for us; to people who’ve helped us when we needed it; and – here’s a personal
peeve – to people who’ve given us gifts.
I’m thinking specifically of
weddings and bar mitzvas I’ve attended where I’ve placed a carefully chosen
present – or check – into the receptacle provided... and never heard anything
When a gift isn’t acknowledged, it loses value.
that I need effusive expressions of thanks; more a recognition of something
given and received, the complementary gesture to mine.
I’ve lost count of
the times my gifts have remained unacknowledged, but I’ve been glad,
increasingly, to receive little notes, sometimes in a touchingly childish hand,
saying, “Thank you so much for....”
It takes work to write thank-yous to
100 or more guests, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. It is part of
what parents need to teach their children.
WITH Rosh Hashana on the
doorstep, storeowners have packed their premises full of shiny and
items they are counting on us to buy as presents to be given on the
And, dutifully, we are complying, as we do every year.
But there’s one
item you won’t find in any store or catalogue – in fact, you won’t find
sale anywhere. It’s well worth acquiring, however. It’s called the gift
My reader in Netanya knows all about it.