By The Cyber Rav
I have something to say about old people. I like them. I know that we're not suppose to call old people old, but I'm not exactly sure why. We call young people young and they don't seem to mind. Well, you might argue, there's nothing wrong with being young, but when you're old-that's a problem. Really? Is it the experiences that the old have endured, or the life's lessons that they have acquired, or the efforts that they have expended, or the good that they have wrought? What exactly is wrong with being old? Some people resist the "old" label because they want to be associated with the young who seem always eager and willing to learn. These people have never taught in the public school system.
I like old people. The more society flashes ads on TV of young lithe bodies baking in the sun, twenty or thirty-somethings working out at the gym, models in the latest fashions walking down that runway, I like the old people even better. I've never liked society telling me what to think or believe. Our society is obsessed with youth. It's bizarre. What exactly is so great about being young? Aren't the young inexperienced, naive, lacking in perspective, and rash? Why isn't calling someone young an insult? Maybe the young need a euphemism for their tender age-junior citizens, perhaps?
People will say to me-Isn't it nice to see all the young people in synagogue! It is. But I'm saddened that no one ever says-Isn't it nice to see all the old people in synagogue. After all, the young people need to see older people in order to understand that synagogue involvement is a life-long enterprise. I like seeing people in synagogue-lots of people! And if I see many old people, maybe it's because our synagogue welcomes old people, in a world that isn't particularly kind to the elderly. Is that so bad? Not at all. Actually, it's a mitzvah.
In the Torah we read, "You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:32). I love that passage. When I was little and riding the bus with my mother downtown, she would always have me give my seat to an older person. It was her way of teaching me to respect older people. Giving my seat up for an older person was a mitzvah. In Judaism, being advanced in years was a position of honor or the exact opposite of how we view it today.
Does old mean being sick? No. Being sick means being sick. Being sick is as much a misfortune when you are old as when you are young. Does being old mean being ugly? No. Beauty is very much an internal thing, but the people who understand that best tend to be those who have lived a few decades to have learned it. Does being old mean being inflexible, irascible, cantankerous, demanding, surly, loud, or cheap? Oy-which stereotype should we dismantle first?
When I was born, my father was 52 years old. When I was ten and walked down the street with him, people would stop and look, see an older gentleman holding the hand of a little boy, and ask-"Out with the grandson?" And it took me awhile to figure out that where they saw an old person, I saw only my father. From that time on, I knew that I would never make any assumptions about who old people are or what they can do.
What kind of a world do we live in that would depreciate a person based on his or her age? What kind of a world do we live in that would render old some kind of dirty word? It's not a very respectful world. It's not a very kind world. And it's certainly not a Jewish world. But when we enter the synagogue, we do enter the Jewish world, and it is a world in which we respect the elderly, where the term "old" has no more negative connotations than the term "young," and where we are as happy to see people at one end of the age scale as those on the other.
Political correctness is the Joe McCarthy of the modern age. It's the thought police that seeks out all our "wrong thoughts" and corrects them with the "right thoughts" or the "right words." Exactly who is making all these determinations? I question political correctness as I suspect it of quashing all substantive thought. I will be in charge of my own thoughts and my own language-thank you. So should you. There's nothing wrong with acknowledging one's age. There's nothing wrong with getting old or being old. I like old people. I respect old people. Shouldn't we all?
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