Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Traveling Through Life’s Mile-Markers

“Growing old gracefully.” It is a phrase that we frequently hear people say when they talk about aging, though I never quite understood what it’s supposed to mean. It almost sounds like an admonition that we should not put up too much of a fight as our physical strength and mental acuity begins to diminish.  Just tolerate it with a kind disposition and for heaven’s sake, try not to kvetch too much.  It makes everyone else around you awfully uncomfortable.

Now, for many of us, that suggestion is simply not going to work. After all, we are the people who elevated kvetching to a rare art form. We’re not going to give up that easily.  And there is nothing particularly wrong with that struggle. We ought to do everything we can to stay vital, dynamic, engaged and productive for as long as humanly possible. We ought to strive to keep an alert and active mind, remain interested and interesting, and avoid becoming ill-tempered and cantankerous so that nobody wants to be around us.

But as far as I’m concerned, “growing old gracefully” ought to really mean: Savoring the beauty of every single day, and appreciating that our limited time on this earth means that every moment and every relationship is something precious and irreplaceable.  Each day presents us with the potential for beautiful moments that are not to be squandered.

As we travel through life, we are occasionally met by special moments that serve as “mile-markers” alerting us to the passage of time. If we have children, it is often their birthday parties, b’nai mitzvah, graduations and weddings which become wonderful examples of some of life’s most heart-warming milestones.  

On a personal note, I have now reached the “grandparent” stage of life (and I do hope you’re all still thinking: “Gee he’s way too young to be a grandfather”)!  We just recently celebrated our grandson Gavi’s third birthday which accompanied the Jewish tradition of upsherin -- the first haircut at 3 years old -- which seems to be making quite the comeback these days.  Such events serve to underscore the beauty and mystery of the passage of time.  

God-willing, we will celebrate two more simchas this summer: the birth of another grandchild, and the upcoming marriage of our middle daughter.  So this brings us to another magical time in our lives, filled with hope, promise, and anticipation. 

Whenever the subject of our daughter’s approaching wedding has come up in conversation, the question I get more than any other is: “Will you be officiating at the service?” “Is that even allowed?” 

Actually it is not a bad question. In rabbinic practice, a rabbi is supposed to exclude him/herself from intervening in certain matters or halachic decisions, if he or she is a “nogeah badavar” (literally “touching the matter”), which means somehow personally involved in any loss or benefit that may stem from the decision. One could have cogently argued that a father is similarly affected by his daughter’s choice of a husband. 

But our tradition has no such concern when it comes to performing your own child’s wedding ceremony. All that matters is that there are two proper unrelated witnesses  to sign the Ketubah and to confirm that the legally required elements of a Jewish marriage have in fact taken place.  In our family it has been a long-standing tradition to get married by your father, and this pattern has probably repeated itself a dozen times over throughout the generations.

So as I chant the traditional words under the chuppah that I have spoken so many times before, another two young adults will be forging a magical bond as they embark on their future together. And Linda and I will smile knowingly at one another. We will be reminded of our youth, our age and our own wedding ceremony many years ago. And as we celebrate, God-willing, another birth this summer, we will know that we are experiencing another one of life’s miraculous moments as we move past another treasured milepost along the path of life.

May all of us merit the opportunity to celebrate many such simchas in our lives, and to never lose sight of what a magical and precious world we are privileged to enjoy.

Rav Mark Zimmerman

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