You are relevant!
Whenever I ran into a particular friend of mine, I asked what he was doing, and he would retort, “Just trying to remain relevant.” I always got a kick out of that response, but never thought much about it. I figured it was a cute throwaway line. That was until I did my Chaplaincy residency.
One of the hardest visits during my chaplaincy, which took place during the Covid pandemic, was when I heard a resident say, “I don’t like feeling warehoused.” I had never heard such a sentiment expressed and felt compelled to explore what he meant. He explained that since the facility wanted to contain any possible outbreak, they confined the residents to their rooms. As a result, with the exception of the meals being delivered or a resident’s pressing their buzzer, staff paid no attention to them, and thus he felt like he was warehoused, like some unnecessary object. Sadly, it would not be the last time I heard that feeling expressed.
It was then that I truly understood the need to be relevant! Relevance means that one still has something to offer the world, that one still has value to another. No one wants to feel useless or warehoused, regardless of the grandeur of the particular place in which one is housed.
In truth, everyone has something to offer. The older one gets, the more of a walking history book one becomes. To be able to offer insights and experiences to the younger generation is invaluable. History is important so that we can learn what works and what does not. It also helps to inform us of our present and future, so, far from being irrelevant, an older person becomes a treasure-house of insight.
I remember as a young boy attending minyan with the “old-timers.” It was a wonderful experience. I got the flavor of Yiddish expressions and the styles and tunes of the older folks. As the only youth to attend, I was taken under their collective wing and encouraged to lead services and read Torah. They made the shul a warm and inviting place. It is partly due to their warmth and stewardship that I entered the Rabbinate.
It was gratifying to me when I learned about the immense respect that Judaism has for its older generations. Jewish philosophy views the revelation at Mt. Sinai between Hashem and the Jewish people as the pivotal moment in history. That generation has the moniker of “Dor Hadeyah - the generation of knowledge.” Every generation after that has had a weaker connection to the event and thus, we view with reverence our former generations. We look backward in order to move forward. So, our seniors are far from irrelevant, they are of utmost importance, and it is incumbent upon us to make them feel their importance and relevance!
When I visit and interact with our clients, I always endeavor to show them the respect that they deserve. I want to be able to say that I never contributed to their feeling of being warehoused. If you agree with this sentiment, and are interested in volunteering at JFS, let’s talk and see what we can do together.