My bride of almost 50 years asked what I would like for my 70th birthday. I didn't have an immediate answer; though I knew there wasn't any particular "thing" I wanted.
As I thought through what I wanted most it was to travel and see some old friends whom we have not seen in ten years. We contacted our friends and all four of us were mutually excited. My next step was to find airline tickets.
As I began that process I found myself bounced to a website for "highly affordable-low cost" term insurance. I decided to just look to see what a 20-year tem policy might cost me. Too much was the quick revelation!
But in the process of filling out the online information, I was asked to indicate the year of my birth. A window opened on the page and I had to scroll down from 2012 to 1942. That's a long bit of scrolling! But it was eye-opening, too.
In the process of reaching back to 1942 I passed significant years in the fifties, sixties, seventies and up to today. I felt a little like George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life." I could see my impact and the impact of others on me. I was reminded of veterans coming home from World War II, the Korean War, The Cuban Missile Conflict, Vietnam, high school, college, and rabbinic school graduations, teachers"¦and the births of our daughters and grandchildren.
Today I looked at a wedding picture in which Shirley and I are standing with my smiling grandmother. In the background there is a painting. I asked Shirley if she recognized the man in the painting. After a few minutes we both laughed and recalled it was Sir Walter Raleigh"¦and that we had been married in the Raleigh House Catering Hall.
Freelance writer Robert Brault has said: "Looking back you realize that a very special person passed briefly through your life — and it was you. It is not too late to find that person again."
I don't look back a lot. When I do I can easily find moments of great joy, some sorrow, wisely made decisions and the usual amount of foolish ones. I know there were years that were more challenging than others, growth that had to take place (sometimes with great pain); but, on balance, I have had and continue to have a good life.
As I look forward to age seventy I also look forward to connecting more deeply with the special person Brault mentions. Most of my efforts, however, are concentrated on the present, though I am a person who needs to know there are some special plans or activities scheduled for the future.
In the fall our oldest grandson will become Bar Mitzvah, and a year later his cousin will do the same. We look forward with great love and anticipation to these events. However, the scrolling calendar reminds me that I'm now 13 years older than I was when Max was born. Both he and I have grown older"¦and closer.
The rabbis tell a beautiful story in which a first-century farmer is planting an olive tree while the Romans are sacking Jerusalem. "Why are you planting an olive tree (which takes about 12 years under ideal conditions)?" his friend asks. "Just as my fathers planted for me, so will I plant for my offspring," replied the farmer.
I have seen wonderful fruit come from some of the trees Shirley and I have planted.
Children whom I first met when they were 4 or 5 are now leading my congregation; and their children are in colleges and universities and on their own way to bearing fruit and improving the world. Is there a better gift for a man turning seventy? It is a blessing to look back with gratitude and forward with optimism and a growing serenity.
The prophet Joel taught: "Your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions."
I am not yet old and no longer young, and I do have dreams to dream and visions on which I reflect with joy.