In a dilapidated log cabin, near a cornfield, there lived an old farmer. He had lived in the same place for so long that he attracted a lot of attention from passersby. Some believed his age to be 110, yet he maintained a youthful disposition and a sparkling sense of humor. Once a tourist stopped and asked: “Have you lived here all your life?” With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, the farmer replied without hesitation: “Not yet.”
This story always reminds me of my mother. She is 97-years-old. Despite her infirmities and the challenges she has had to face – my father died 45 years ago and my brother 25 – my mother lives in her own apartment and continues to maintain her independence. She has an active mind, keeps up with the news and enjoys her music. Whenever I visit, she has my favorite food waiting and with it, memories of my childhood. She exercises regularly and participates in various cultural activities. She has a deep and abiding faith in God, and although she is no longer able to attend synagogue services, she spends Shabbat listening to cantorial music and sermons on tape. What I admire most about her is the kindness she shows to others, whether family, friends or neighbors. She never forgets a birthday or anniversary and is the first to offer comfort, caring or encouragement, whatever the need.
For me, my mother defines the art of aging. From her, I have learned to keep busy and engage in meaningful activity, to be sustained by faith and strengthened by friends, to face the future with confidence and be more responsive to the needs of others. I hope I am worthy of the example she sets.
Sally J. Priesand is Rabbi Emerita of Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls, NJ.