The myriad meanings of ‘old’

Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh received a B.A. from Skidmore College and was ordained as a Rabbi from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is fortunate to be involved in so many facets of the community including serving as the chaplain for JF&CS and an instructor for CAJE. This will be her fifth year serving as the visiting Rabbi in Decatur, Ill. She has also served congregations in both Sydney and Perth, Australia. When not writing her weekly BLOGS, she can be found running marathons.


I think it takes luck to grow old. To grow old at least in the way that I ideally envision. I see so many different types of old. I see chronologically old and emotionally old, worn from the battles of life. I see old “happy” and angry old. And I sadly see “too young” to be in a facility “old.”

If I were honest, I would admit that I think about my own mortality more than is beneficial to my daily being. To the majority of residents with whom I visit I am young – sometimes half their age! But at the grocery store I am called “ma’am” and asked if I need help to the car. I forget that I am no longer twenty-five when an innocent clerk would ask to see my driver’s license with the purchase of a bottle of wine. I think we all remain a certain age in our mind’s eye.

I was with a delightful woman this afternoon. She has lived a life with international adventure. She reads the New York Times every day and can talk politics with the best of them. Yet, in the middle of the conversation she shared that she was concerned about her mother. She clearly believed her mother to be alive.

We visited a while longer, returning to a conversation relevant to today and full of clarity. I left her room with the usual smile I have after spending time together. I could not stop thinking about her questions about her mother. But I felt that she was content with herself and her life. She did not need anyone to shake her from her thoughts to bring her to a reality that seemed cruel and unnecessary. At least for today, I liked her type of old.