On Sept. 4, I turned 75. I am happy to have reached this stage in my life. In turn, I am trying to figure out its meaning for me and my family.
According to a rabbinic text, at the age of 60 one becomes old (le-ziknah), and at 70, one becomes really old: “at seventy, grey hairs (le-sevah)” (Pirke Avot 5: 25). In fact, in the Bible, King David died “at a good old age” (besevah tovah) ( I Chr. 29: 28), which according to II Sam 5:4 meant seventy. In those days, people did not live long. Because of better medical care, things are thankfully different now. People often live into their 90’s. My father died at the age of 97; my mother at 90. In my case, at 75, I do not feel old. Though retired from the congregational rabbinate, I still travel, teach, write and am active with my family and in my community. However, I do feel the necessity to rethink my priorities. And here is what I have come up with:
Recently I was complaining to someone I know that, with age, I was starting to have some physical issues, such as vision problems or lack of energy, until she stopped me right in my tracks and reminded me that “getting older is a privilege that many people do not have.” I quickly understood what she meant because she had lost her husband at a young age, and who was I to complain that I was getting older! This realization humbled me and gave me a better perspective on my life.I now feel this is the time to take an inventory of my life, and review my priorities, and even share them with my loved ones so that they may learn from my experiences. That is why I am redoing my memoirs and will make them available to my children and especially my grandchildren. I have also tweaked my ethical will, which identifies the core values of my life.
Being a retired professional enables me now to do things that I never had a chance to do in the past. So, I volunteer my services to others who need my help. This past year, for example, because I can also speak Spanish, I taught Judaic subjects through Skype to Reform Jews in Spain, conducted religious services in Barcelona and Puerto Rico, visited Turkey and continued to teach at Boston College on a part-time basis.
What of the future? I do not know what the next few years will bring. I am inspired by a story I once read-- most likely an urban myth-- that during a concert the famous violinist Yitzhak Perlman broke one or two strings in his violin but was able to finish the piece by using the rest of them. When they asked him how he did it, he responded, “Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
I plan to make this my mantra: to be grateful for what I have and am, to enjoy every day with my wife and family, to contribute to society to the extent of my ability, and to leave behind a good name so that it may be mentioned with pride and blessing.
Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.
PS. If you wish to follow my blog, please sign in at rsonsino.blogspot.com