Mak­ing the time to value sim­ply be­ing

Toronto Star - - OPINION - Dow Mar­mur Dow Mar­mur is rabbi emer­i­tus of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Tem­ple. His col­umn ap­pears ev­ery four weeks.

The West­ern world cel­e­brates do­ing at the ex­pense of be­ing. Even re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties, in their ef­fort to be vi­brant and rel­e­vant, of­ten pay much more at­ten­tion to ac­tion than to re­flec­tion and con­tem­pla­tion. Those in search of mean­ing, par­tic­u­larly the young, even travel to the Far East to find gu­rus who can ex­pose them to the art of be­ing.

That do­ing is im­por­tant to make a liv­ing and to con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety should be self-ev­i­dent. The elim­i­na­tion of poverty in many places — al­beit not enough and not ev­ery­where — is largely due to what’s some­times de­scribed as the Prot- es­tant work ethic. We’ve ev­ery rea­son to be en­thu­si­as­tic part­ners in this, ir­re­spec­tive of our re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion.

But there’s much more to life than work. We need to look into our­selves and be­yond to af­firm, nay cel­e­brate, the mys­tery of hu­man ex­is­tence. Even those who work hard and en­joy its fruits ought to know that in or­der to live fully, more is needed than do­ing. Now when we live longer be­cause of the favourable con­di­tions created through work, our re­tire­ment years could be ded­i­cated to be­ing — to en­joy ex­is­tence on Earth and per­haps also try to pre­pare for what’s be­yond.

Psy­chol­o­gist and blog­ger Mary Pritchard has writ­ten that “so­ci­ety praises those who do: It’s more about what you ac­com­plish than who you are as a per­son.” That’s prob­a­bly why re­tirees, seem­ingly more men than women, are anx­ious to tell you, de­fen­sively, that now, though they no longer work for a liv­ing, they’re “busier than ever.” They may find it shame­ful to ad­mit that they now have time to do “noth­ing,” to en­joy the ev­ery­day and the or­di­nary, with op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­flect on what hu­man ex­is­tence is re­ally about.

Pritchard rec­om­mends: “In­stead of look­ing at your day as an end­less to-do list, what if you started each day with a ques­tion: ‘At the end of the day, how do I want to feel?’ Af­ter you pon­der that one, you can ask your­self, ‘What will make me feel that way?’ ”

But that re­quires not only that so­ci­ety re­gards such ques­tions as le­git­i­mate, but also for the state to pro­vide ad­e­quate sup­port to en­able re­tired peo­ple to live with dig­nity. That’s by no means al­ways the case. Some peo­ple need to work past their re­tire­ment age in or­der to main­tain them­selves. This, alas, makes it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for them to move be­yond do­ing.

An ed­i­to­rial in this pa­per last month as­sumed that the an­swer is to al­low, nay en­cour­age, se­niors to re­main in the work­place be­yond re­tire­ment age. Though this may be ap­pro­pri­ate in ex­cep­tional cases, pen­sions should be made ad­e­quate to en­able women and men to de­vote their “golden years” to the cul­ti­va­tion of be­ing.

That’s the aim of the “sa­cred ag­ing” move­ment in the Amer­i­can-Jewish com­mu­nity. Re­act­ing against “our mod­ern youth-ob­sessed cul­ture,” it tells us that mov­ing away from the world of do­ing “can be an em­pow­er­ing and in­spir­ing op­por­tu­nity for spir­i­tual, emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal growth.”

Re­mind­ing us that in an­cient and In­dige­nous cul­tures, in­clud­ing Ju­daism, “el­der­ing has al­ways been re­garded as a sa­cred and hon­oured phase of life,” sa­cred ag­ing seeks to en­cour­age old peo­ple to lead “idle” lives that “con­tinue to be vi­brant with joy and self-dis­cov­ery.”

As churches, syn­a­gogues and mosques usu­ally have a large pro­por­tion of older wor­ship­pers, they may take to heart the Psalmist’s charge to “serve the Eter­nal with joy” by cel­e­brat­ing be­ing with­out apolo­gies. In the words of Rabbi Deb­o­rah Jacobson of Long­meadow, Mass., “we are here to keep learn­ing and to keep grow­ing es­pe­cially in our char­ac­ter and in our spirit. None of that ends with ‘re­tire­ment.’ ”

But there’s much more to life than work. We need to look into our­selves and be­yond to af­firm, nay cel­e­brate, the mys­tery of hu­man ex­is­tence

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