I attended a Charleston concert recently to hear Rock and Roll Hall of Famer David Crosby, formerly of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He is 76 and still singing his golden oldies as well as new music. His age, spirit and talent captured the audience that night.
A few weeks earlier, I saw Art Garfunkle from the duo Simon and Garfunkle at Charleston Music Hall. He is 75 and performed with the vigor that made his age completely irrelevant to the quality of his show.
All of this is to say that age does not have to be an impediment to reaching for the stars and keeping one’s mind and body vibrant and engaged in the world.
I learned that lesson again recently when I celebrated with six adult women who worked for two years to learn Hebrew so they could read the scrolls of the Torah and become a bat mitzvah, a Daughter of the Covenant.
For a millennium, only boys were allowed to read the Torah in public worship, and at 13, they read a portion of it in Hebrew as the singular rite of passage to become an adult in the community. It was only in the mid 1920s that girls started to read in public from the Torah in Sabbath morning worship services. Today 13-year-old girls and boys regularly read from the Torah.
The six women took classes about Judaism and worked to learn the ancient language. Sure, they were concerned their age might make learning it a struggle. But they were determined to fulfill this ancient life-cycle rite. They worried their senior status would make it next to impossible to achieve this ritual.
But they did it. When the day finally arrived, they conducted the Sabbath worship service with their new language skills. They lead the prayers in both English and Hebrew and then read from the Torah.
They are just one example of what we see in a society where age itself does not have to be a barrier to spiritual growth.
Yes, as we age, our bodies and our neurology change, and that means things like memory and spatial recognition often are affected. But do these changes mean that spiritually we are done when we hit 70?
So many seniors are trying new things and stretching themselves in ways they never would have imagined during their working years. What makes religion meaningful is not just preparing for death. Rather, religion and the pursuit of knowledge is a lifelong journey that teaches us we should not limit our potential just because of age.
The senior years can be spiritually vibrant and challenging.
Many older adults speak to me of their concern over whether their children and, in particular, their grandchildren, will have a religion. They ask, “How can I help my children and grandchildren appreciate the religious tradition we have been involved in since our youth?”
The best way to preserve a faith for the next generation is to practice it and set the example.
America’s religiously unaffiliated population is the largest growing segment in America today. Reversing that trend requires a long-game approach, but it starts with each of us rediscovering how sacred rites of passage, studying our scriptural heritage and engaging in the life of the religious community are critical steps in challenging the decline of religion in American life.
Remember, if 70-year-olds can learn a new language, then nothing is impossible.
If a person wills it, no matter his or her age, goals will not be a dream but a reality.
We call these days the golden years not only because we do not have to work any more or because we have lots of free time.
It can also be a time when we can experience and rediscover our purpose and find new insights.
And don't such things make our lives all the more exciting and meaningful?