Antique sells. Even faux-antique sells. “Antiqued” furniture is scuffed and dinged at the end of the assembly line. Brand-new pewter pitchers are being coated with green stuff called patina. Multi-million-dollar homes are built to “have character.” If you have no antique, buy some. The more old and worn-looking, the better: the elegance of aged has come of age. Old is good.
Except for old people. No one boasts of having their own senior citizen. Or of being one.
And no one is guiltier of this than the old people themselves. They dress to look twenty-something. They (try to) carry on a conversation like Generation X. They even operate on themselves to erase the signs of the life they have lived. When it comes to people, the Fountain of Youth reigns. And—we add for good measure—can you make that fountain spring from an ancient-looking, rustic grotto?
For good reason, for good reason is youth pursued.
Youth is beautiful. Young means glamorous, vibrant, fun, exciting. Youth dissipates with age.
The appeal of maturity is its subtlety: understated, dependable, grounded. Maturity, and a taste for maturity, must be acquired.
Put wine in a jar, and it turns to vinegar. Left in the cask, wine develops full flavor. In the cask it is still alive, it breathes, it grows. It acquires something it did not have the day before.
Old people can, if they so choose, turn to grouches. A grouch is the result of someone who stops growing, acquiring, developing. It can happen in a young person too: We call them brats.
“Ba bayamim,” the Parshah several weeks ago describes Abraham, “come of his days.” Each day was full, was lived to its fullest. He took on the next day with new vigor. “Old, and with full days,” this Parshah describes his son, when he too was no longer young.
Some people wait to die. Some live a life that ends with death. They determine their day by their food, golf, shopping and social climbing. The Talmud calls them dead: “Even in their lifetimes, they are called dead.”
How sad to hear a son eulogize his mother for her brisket. How sad the daughter who holds onto her father’s memory by holding onto the condo in Boca Raton because “he loved the water.” This is what they have left? Recipes and beach balls?
Is this what our grandchildren can know about their grandparents? Is this legacy?
You cannot live towards legacy, any more than you can live towards happiness. They will evade you.
You can live with a today that is giving, building: ensuring something precious is made in this world. A girl with leukemia is cured. A boy with Hodgkin’s is comforted. You babysit for his mother so she can go out for a few hours. You learn some Torah. You teach some Torah.
You help others learn and live and celebrate and have something to give to their children. You sweep the floor of the synagogue, you straighten up the chairs, you order more books, you update the synagogue website.
By themselves, none of these things are worth writing home about. Together, accumulated over a lifetime, they leave a legacy.
The soul breathes, much as wine does.
The body turns to vinegar if the soul does not breathe. Capturing youth is canning wine, at best.
Living life, letting the soul breathe, is creating a precious antique the grandchildren will showcase.