What a Funny-Looking Birthday Card
Thanks, Uncle Sam!
There it was, in all of its cardboard, red-white-and-blue, government-issue “officialness.”
A Medicare card. Me? Cannot be. Okay, the calendar said I was turning 65. I could always ignore the calendar. I could always, when asked, say I was around 60. My friends did not care. In fact, they seemed delighted to join in the charade. My children did not mind; after all, I am their dad and thus, by definition, old. But, here it was, the government had officially taken notice of my age.
What is an aging Phillies fan to do in such a predicament? Celebrate, for one. It is an amazing thing to sit and contemplate the passage of time. What does this mean, this birthday? I tried to get all worked up about it, but, alas, could not. It is just a number, and the fact is, in this day and age, it is meaningless. The 65-year "cut off" emerged in the 19th century, from Germany, if I remember right, when the government decided to develop a system to make room for younger workers in the booming Industrial Revolution. Today? Being 65 is, well, just another birthday. So many of my friends are engaged in valued and meaningful lives that the idea of retiring is a true anathema.
I must also give thanks for another reality. My cohorts and I are all in situations that allow us the luxury of deciding how we can or should live. Even with the economic challenges of recent years, most of us are okay. I worry, as we all should, about those who must retire at 65 and are left with little or no economic support or health care. It is great to contemplate, as so many books and articles do, about the great adventure of the "new" aging, yet we need to remember that this is still a luxurious, unrealizable dream for many in our society. It is a true blessing to be able to choose how one lives and to have the freedom to explore new life adventures and experiences. There are still too many in our world who will never have those freedoms and choices.
This leads to a rather interesting conclusion. The idea of devoting some of our life to meaningful service to others is as old as the human race. However, never before have so many had the opportunity and the means to actualize this dream. In Judaism, we call these deeds mitzvot. It really does not matter what name they are given, what matters is that, if we are able, we examine the ways we can use our experience and time and maybe money, to be of service to others.
In every religious community, every congregation, huge pools of untapped human resources exist. There is no better time for these communities to organize these resources for the betterment of the larger community. Every religious tradition has a mandate of service that sees in that service a response to a sacred call to "repair the broken fragments of the world."
If you are able, look at the population of your church, synagogue, mosque, or community of faith, and see how the human experience represented in them can be harnessed to serve the larger world. It takes little money. It does take time, and we know how precious time can be, yet we also know how powerful one relationship can be and how it can help change a life.
Published December 16, 2009