Last week, I received an unwelcome invitation in the mail: The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is soliciting my membership. 22 benefits for only $12.50 a year! Savings on travel, auto rentals, and all kinds of insurance!
But I discerned much more written between the lines:
Frank Jaffe, welcome to Geezerhood! The Youth Culture has passed you by, but your dollars are still highly valued. Let us remind you of your mortality, in case you've forgotten. (Images of retired persons in Florida lining up for the early-bird special and Geritol dance through my head.) Since you're on your way down the mountain, you might as well get a discount at the movies.
The passage of time and years is a strange and subjective sensation. One feels the years passing more and more quickly as the decades roll by. At 20, life looms ahead like an endless journey; by 30 one is starting to pick up steam, and by 40 things are chugging along.
By 50, the echoes of eternity beat softly in the background like a distant drum. Yet 50 towers erect and important: a right of passage to be wrestled with, a door to pass through. A great mystery beckons on the other side.
The Torah has interesting applications of the number 50:
Every 50 years, following seven Sabbatical cycles, the shofar of freedom is sounded in the Land of Israel. On the 50th year everything returns to its rightful place in the world. Servants return to freedom. Land which has been purchased returns to its original owner.
Another application of 50: We count the Omer, marking 50 days from Passover until the giving of the Torah on Shavuot.
On Shavuot, we celebrate a different kind of 'return to one's place': the Torah itself returns to its rightful place in the soul of every Jew.
With this I can appreciate the call of the AARP:
Frank Jaffe, you've passed 50 years on this earth. It's time to go back to who you really are. Self-knowledge. A spiritual connection. The joy of Jubilee is knowing your place in the world. Your role in the Divine Plan. Discover it, Frank! Embrace it! Achieve true peace of mind!
Yet how does one know and identify this elusive self? Where is it hiding?
By 50, most of us have abandoned the grandiose and magical dreams of young adulthood, and have begun to refocus on the road that doesn't stretch out forever in this world. Fifty years of life experience teach us to identify our unique attributes and unique challenges. We begin to look for the eternal in the mundane, to capture the beauty of every moment.
Jewish thought says that each of us has our own "letter in the Torah." Maybe it takes 50 years to locate that letter, and to discover what God's Torah is writing on your soul.
So I've decided to make my 50th birthday a "rebirth," a new crack at life. I still have six months to sort things out and figure out who I really am. With no illusions, I will embrace who I really am, with all the defects and limitations. And with that clarity, I'll forge a terrific plan for the next glorious stage of life.
And if all else fails, at least AARP will make sure I get a discount at the movies.