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“And Sarah Laughed…And So Should We”

09/16/2023 07:15:03 PM


Peter H. Grumbacher – Interim Rabbi

“And Sarah Laughed…And So Should We” Peter H. Grumbacher – Interim Rabbi Temple Beth El – Newark, Delaware First Morning Rosh Hashanah 5784 – September 16, 2023 __________________________ In my teenage years The Lovin’ Spoonful sang a song called, “Do You Believe in Magic.” Does anybody remember that song? Well, be that as it may, we have to ask the same question regarding the miracle of Sarah’s pregnancy and Abraham’s vitality at ages 90 and 100 respectively. As we say, Kol Hakavod! which translates “All honor to you!”, only it sounds better and says more in the Hebrew. Though thinking about it, Yasher koach might, in fact, be a tad more appropriate. I guess Sarah herself was a bit skeptical when she got the news. We read that she chuckled. It must have been such a powerful response to the news that Abraham named his son Yitzchak, Isaac, which means “laughter.” I guess both parents were made aware of their advanced years with this event that they wondered to themselves, “What’s this aging process really all about?” Of course, they’d never come up with that question, leaving it to the scientists, social workers, psychologists at the time, and, of course, God, to answer. But that was then, and this is now. Each of us, that is, we who are “seasoned” adults, are coming to grips with our aging…but I hope our children and grandchildren seated here don’t think my words are geared to us alone. Indeed, you, our children and grandchildren who remember us as vigorous, adventurous, wide-awake and ready-togo, are yourselves sometimes concerned, even amazed, at what the years have done to us, mom and dad, grandma and grandpa (or whatever you call your grandparents). Not my kids! I’ve never been vigorous, adventurous, wide-awake and ready-to-go, but they are in the 40s and they too see mom and dad as, shall we say, different than we were years ago. For me, this all comes to light not in the sacred texts of our tradition…not Torah, not Talmud, not Shulchan Aruch. Rather from a most unusual source – but a reliable one nonetheless - the dayto-day comic strips that I’ve read for decades. Of course, those comic strips going back forty and fifty years strike me differently today. “For Better or Worse” made us wonder if a fly was on our wall watching every move we made as young, dumb, parents. And “Zits,” a comic strip about Jeremy, his friends and the challenges of the teenage years, hit the nail on the head when ours were Jeremy’s age….except our continuing ignorance of things technological. As a matter of fact, one of Jeremy’s friends spoke the honest truth when he said, “I shudder to think what will happen to them when we go away to college!” Well, God bless eleven year old neighbors and our son-in-law. But what nowadays gives us a laugh – but sometimes a serious reflective pause – is “Pickles,” the strip about Oval and Earl Pickles, a “seasoned” couple. In “Pickles” we see ourselves through the vicissitudes of aging, physically and attitudinally. But truly thinking about these three comic strips has made me appreciate even more the complete path of life, its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows…yes, life itself! I heard an interview with Billy Crystal a few years ago in which he spoke about how disappointed he was when his publisher rejected the title Billy suggested for his latest book. It was called “Still Foolin’ ‘Em” but Billy Crystal wanted it to be called… “Everything Hurts.” Just that title struck a chord with us. When Suzy and I get together with friends we’ve known a long time we realize our conversations today are so very different from when we spoke about diapers – pampers or cloth; and later on, homework, use of the family car, after-school activities. But today our discussions revolve around, “How young is your doctor?” “Oh, you need a knee replacement,” “You’ve had HOW MANY colonoscopies?” and “Just about every time I walk into the pantry I can’t for the life of me remember what I was looking for!” And perhaps you even have the same term for conversations such as those…organ recitals. I read a comment by a woman who was very distressed. “I was taught to respect my elders, but at this point in my life I’m finding it harder and harder to find any.” There are a few ways to look at that. The first is obvious…the woman herself is an “elder.” But another interpretation is that the true “elder” is hard to find in general. Judaism demands that elders be respected regardless of our scholarship or our piety because of the many trials and experiences that each additional year of life brings. Tell that to a younger person who might even look at 50-year-olds as “over the hill.” As someone wrote… The aged are made to feel that we are useless, if not a burden…After decades of achievement, our knowledge and talent are suddenly worthless; after decades of contributing to society, we are suddenly underserving recipients, grateful for every time the younger generation takes off from work and play to drop by for a half-hour chat. ( When it comes to folks of a certain age, let us say there are euphemisms galore. We receive “senior” discounts; some are members of “Golden Age” clubs. As opposed to “senior” citizens, ” to keep us from thinking about our age, we are sometimes referred to, not as “senior” citizens but – one of my new favorite terms that I mentioned before – “seasoned” citizens. Now as for myself, I don’t deny my age and I don’t use euphemisms to express it. That’s because my definition of ‘old’ is my friend – whoever it might be - having lived one year more than yours truly!” We should be proud of our “seasoning,” because there’s a great deal of respect of the aged (ahem, excuse me) found in Judaism. It is said, “the very fact that God has granted a person a single additional day of bodily life means that she or he has not yet concluded their mission in life, that there is still something for him or her to achieve in this world.” Thus a lot has to do with attitude, and we know many people who are old because they think old and act old and live old, but aren’t nearly as old in years as others who think young and act young and live young. In my student pulpit at another Temple Beth El, there was a very old woman named Sissy with a zest for life. She told me about a conversation she had with her friend, Edna, a contemporary who complained about looking in the mirror and seeing a wizened woman with furrow-like wrinkles, suddenly realizing she was looking at herself. So in her wonderful Richmond, Virginia drawl, Sissy said to Edna, “Edna, this is completely your fault,” and when Edna huffily asked why, Sissy continued, “It’s simple, Edna…you could have died years ago!” Sissy had a healthy attitude. She once told me people thought she took a flashlight to Temple every Friday night because she was afraid of falling. Tiny Sissy told me to bend down and she whispered in my ear, “Rabbi, let them think what they will. I’m really looking for men in the bushes!” I’m well aware not all of us can be like Sarah and chuckle at what’s in store for us in old age, but if we can it certainly helps. In my library I found one of Dr. Seuss’ least-known books. It’s called You’re Only Old Once, and its subtitle is “A Book for Obsolete Children.” On the back cover it says it all…”Is this a children’s book? And answering itself we read, “Well, not immediately. You buy a copy for your child now and you gift it on your child’s 70th birthday.” Let me set up one particularly meaningful passage. Let me remind you that before Walgreen’s purchased it, the largest pharmacy chain in all of Delaware was Happy Harry’s. Well, often proclaim out loud just about every time I open our pantry containing the pill bottles – mine and Suzy’s – “Here is what made Happy Harry happy!” That’s the background to this: This small white pill is what I munch At breakfast and right after lunch. I take the pill that’s Kelly green Before each meal and in between. These loganberry-colored pills I take for early morning chills. I take the pill with zebra stripes To cure my early evening gripes. These orange-tinted ones, of course, I take to cure my charley horse. I take three blues at half-past eight To slow my exhalation rate. On alternate nights at nine p.m. I swallow pinkies, four of them. The reds, which make my eyebrows strong, I eat like popcorn all day long. The speckled browns are what I keep Beside my bed to help me sleep. This long flat one is what I take If I should die before I wake. As in every stage of life there’s a partnership between each of us and God. We hope God does what the Divine can do to keep us going but leaving it solely in God’s hands messes up the partnership. So much rests in our hands. Maintain a semblance of self; nurture relationships; be kind and patient; and, for Heaven’s sake, laugh a little or a lot. And if you don’t believe you fit the definition of “senior” or “seasoned” or…God forbid, your definition of “old” is the same as the one I indicated, well, good for you…but keep it in mind for the future.

Sun, July 21 2024 15 Tammuz 5784