Thursday, November 10, 2011

The First Fifty - A chronicle of hope and gratitude

It is said that the first of anything is the hardest to attain. The first million; the first big league home run; first NHL goal, and so forth...

What about the first fifty? As in fifty years??

Four thousand years ago, some of our ancestors lived to be 900 years old. Moses, as we know lived to see 120; others even longer. 200 years ago, attaining the age of fifty was at times difficult, and even today, in some cultures, ravaged by poverty and famine, even the age of twenty seems to prove at best, a dream.

For us, though, living in our technologically incredible world, fifty is considered young. Most of the people with whom I work are well into their eighties or nineties, and some have even surpassed the Century mark of 100 years of age. Medical technology has made it so.

For me, attaining the age of fifty this coming Sunday wasn't so easy, and it was my fault. Years of abusing my body caused a sudden interruption in the life continuum four years ago, and to all concerned, reaching 50 for me was, but a dream. In fact, reaching forty-six was in short, a miracle. Nevertheless, I did make it this far, and for being here, I say Shecheyanu, the Hebrew prayer of gratitude for arriving at this place, at this time.

Often, I ask the elderly with whom I work to tell me what they feel to be the greatest change that they have witnessed in their ninety or so years of life. Their reply, almost to a person has nothing to do with technology, transportation or media, as we would expect. Their answer is stated simply and quietly with one word: Respect. "People no longer have respect", they tell me and continue to relate that this lack of respect appears to them as a general concept. People no longer respect people; we no longer respect the rules of society; we no longer respect our cities or communities; we no longer respect our own accomplishments, such as our jobs; and we no longer respect ourselves.

Teenage boys wear pants that are three sizes too big and have no desire to cover their backsides; twelve and thirteen year old girls dress as if they are headed to a nightclub for under-dressed adults, and this dress is not the exception, but the norm, and not just when they dress for school, or to hang out with their friends, but to Synagogue as well. Let's forget for a moment that this is G-d's house (because isn't G-d really everywhere?), but what about having enough self respect to cover one's self?

This doesn't necessarily rest solely with kids today, rather, with parents as well. I have actually seen one father bring his daughters to Synagogue wearing a lumberjack shirt, jeans, tennis shoes and suspenders; his girls are usually wearing some version of pajamas, and they don't even arrive in time to respect the sanctity of the Sabbath, or the tradition of Shabbat Prayer, rather, they seem to show up every week solely for the Shabbat lunch provided to Congregants, usually sponsored by the family of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah. I am not here to judge, really I am not, rather, I am demonstrating yet another example of how lack of respect has taken over society. Our society.

Do you remember hearing... "When I was your age, I walked a mile and a half to school uphill in the snow with an old pair of beaten up shoes, and..."? It sounds a little funny now, but I have found myself telling my kids that when I was their age, men wore ties and hats to ballgames, and our mothers would never even consider going to the grocery store without a full face of make-up, and newly pressed dress!

"Those were the days, my friend, (credit to Gene Raskin ca~1958), we thought they'd never end..." But, they did end. The question; my question, is, how do we get them back? How do we return, nit to the days of wearing Fedoras to ballgames, necessarily, but how do we regain the self respect that we once had, and in turn, have respect for others?

In a word, we need to look back, forward and sideways, and be more like my friend Jeff from Jeff's Gourmet and be "Smeichim b'Chelkeinu" (happy with our lots). We need to be grateful for every one of G-d's blessings, however small. We need to fill ourselves with gratitude that we awoke this morning,and with the hope that we will awake tomorrow to enjoy yet another wonderful day is this incredible place that G-d created for us.

We need to be head over heels in love. With life.

As the unknown poet during the Revolutionary War wrote: Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here; and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt, the universe is unfolding exactly as it should. Therefore, be at peace with G-d, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

My first fifty has taught me two things that I will now share with you.

As soon as you think these words, say them:

I love you and Thank you. For you will never know if you will have another opportunity.

With gratitude for my first fifty, and hope for my next fifty, I wish you Ahavah u'Vrachot; Love and Blessings from the Left Coast...

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

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