Friday, July 29, 2011

Older But Wiser?

In memory of my father, Dennis Seinfeld (Dovid ben Eliezer).

Last Friday night I went as usual to the nearby assisted-living home.

Small place, only about 30 residents.

As a rule, by the time I arrive (after dinner) the only residents I see are those who want to participate in the Shabbat program (kiddush + story). Everyone else go up to their rooms straight after dinner.

So it surprised me to see Mr. Aaron still sitting there. At 103 years old and nearly deaf, I doubted he had stayed around for me, maybe he was just feeling too tired to get up.

Anyway, after the program, as I rose to leave, he suddenly stood up and asked me, "Would you walk me to my room?"

He was shuffling with a walker. Big man. Strong man. You could tell he had been fit once upon a time.

We walked to the elevator. I wish I could say we had a meaningful conversation. With his hearing loss, it was next to impossible. I knew that he had a lot going on inside there, because over the course of the past few years knowing him, a great sense of humor occasionally came out.

Like the time 2 years ago he had been in the hospital. When he returned home, I told him, "Good to see you on your feet!"

"Better than on someone else's feet!" he retorted.

Last Friday night was the last I saw him. He was "niftar" this week and the funeral was yesterday.

Yesterday was also the 6th Yahrzeit (anniversary) of my father's petira.

Many people don't know the word "petira" (and niftar, the adjective form) but it's a great word to add to your Jewish vocabulary.

It doesn't mean "passing" or "death".

It literally means "exemption" or better, "absolution".

Exemption from what?

From doing mitzvot (mitzvos).

Isn't that a strange way to refer to someone's passing?

Well, what does "passing" mean?

Think about it.

I did several things in his memory yesterday.

- Lit a 24-hour candle Wednesday night.
- Said kaddish in a minyan
- Learned a little bit of Torah in his honor.

I also went to a funeral.

Of course, the funeral had nothing to do with my father, but it brought back memories.

I sat in the back, and listened to Mr. Aaron's grandchildren (he had outlived his children) talking about this man's long, productive life.

Like my father, he had been an attorney. Like my father, he had been the epitome of compassion.

One time, a grandson told, they were having lunch at a restaurant and his grandfather ordered an extra sandwich to go. What was this for? For a hungry person he had seen outside on the way in.

It's great to hear these kinds of stories, because if you only know someone as a 103-year-old man, you only know him as a disabled, hard-of-hearing wrinkled old fella.

My dad, in contrast, never reached old age. He was niftar in his prime.

Sometimes I wonder what my dad would have been like at age 70, or 80, or 90, or 100.

Sometimes I wonder what I will be like at those ages, should I enjoy living so long.

(Apparently, this site will transform your photo to show you past and future selves.)

First question for your table - What kind of person do you see yourself as in 10 years? In 20? In 40?

One of the things I learned about Mr. Aaron was that he had always had a sense of humor.

Riva, the nurse who cares for the seniors over there, observed after the funeral how for most people, when they age their personality doesn't change.

So it sounds like if you are a complaining person today, you have a high chance of ending up a cranky old man or woman.

If you are a cheerful person today, you have a high chance of ending up a cheerful old man or woman.

Some people feel that they are stuck. They are stuck in their bodies, stuck in their personalities. Change may be possible, but it's just too darn hard.

Question #2
- If there were one thing you could change about yourself between now and when you reach 103, what would it be?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Here is a recent video of Mr. Aaron

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