I just completed reading The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery written by Sara Davidson. In 2009, when author, visionary, teacher and founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, Rabbi Schacter was 85 years old, he invited author Sara Davidson, a self-proclaimed skeptical seeker, into his home to talk, listen, record and eventually write about his last life stage or what the Rabbi calls the December years.
This is what I would call a nontraditional biography. The author and the subject of the book, Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi dialogue and discuss, explore and challenge one another on probably the greatest mystery of all – mortality, death and how to live fully up until that last breath. The conversations pull the reader in as Schacter-Shalomi and Davidson, both at different life stages, are personally open and honest as they share, commiserate, disagree, question, kvetch, learn and grow together. And we the readers not only become privy to this intimate conversation, we are given exercises and practices to bring us closer to embracing an understanding and acceptance of our own mortality.
Interspersed between their talks, the author weaves us through the life of Zalman Schacter. Born in Poland, he and his family escaped from Nazi occupied Europe. Finding their way to New York City, Zalman Schacter followed up on his love of the Hasidic teachings and became an orthodox Rabbi. We learn about his 4 marriages, 11 children and how he became the sperm donor for a lesbian rabbi. With an uncompromising curiosity and a deep need to understand, gain more knowledge and expand his horizons, Rabbi Schacter was unable to stay boxed into a set of constricted rules and expectations and he befriended some of the greatest thinkers and spiritual leaders of his time. Thomas Merton, the Dalai Lama and experiments with LSD with his friend Timothy Leary opened his heart and mind to the interconnectedness of all religions and spiritual practices.
What I find so rich and meaningful about The December Project is that we the readers get to witness the genuine realities- the pain, discomfort and suffering as Rebbe Zalman’s health fails. And yet intertwined within this reality is his ever present acceptance, commitment to be fully alive, his willingness to let go and his love and trust in God.
The December Project is a beautiful book for people of any faith or spiritual leaning. The magic of this biography is that as we witness Zalman Schacter-Shalomi prepare for his last day, we get to vision a better tomorrow for ourselves.
By Roberta Teller
If you have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-301-1706
The Village Movement, sometimes called Staying Put or Aging in Community is a grassroots social movement reshaping and changing the thumbprint for senior living. The goal is to help elders who so desire, to remain in their homes as they grow into their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The simple idea behind this concept is to create self-governing, community based organizations within already established communities to provide the necessary resources and people to make this possible.
This new concept for adult living is so important because the population of senior citizens is the fastest growing demographic worldwide. There are now more Americans 65 and older than at any other time in history. Currently, there are approximately 40 million people over 65 (2010 Census) and by 2030 it is estimated that that number will increase to over 70 million. 2040 will see that 40 million doubled to 80 million. Currently,1 in 8 Americans is over 65. By 2030, that will change to 1 in 4. The cost of senior living options and health care are becoming increasingly prohibitive and the simple truth is that 88% of people 65 and older want to remain in their homes for as long as possible. Staying Put, Aging in Community and creating Villages is not only what seniors want, it is far less expensive for those who do not need comprehensive assistance. It is a cost effective solution to maintaining independent and quality of life choices for those who can and want to remain in their own homes.
This new concept in senior living was born In 2001 when a group of neighbors in the Beacon Hill area of Boston got together to discuss how to remain in their homes in their beloved community rather than have to move to retirement or assisted living environments. And since then, this concept has taken off. Today, there are 120 urban, suburban and rural Villages in the US, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. There are 100 more in development. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” And these trailblazers are doing just this.
So what exactly is this Village? Each Village is unique unto itself. The overriding principle is to help seniors remain in their homes with as much independence as possible by building a network of local support and services within the community. Villages are localized and grassroots driven. Memberships are required to support the services and yearly fees can range from $50 – $1000 per year. They are run by volunteers and salaried staff whose responsibility is to coordinate access to affordable services. Some of the services may be free. Others may be eligible for negotiated discounts with authorized participating local merchants and businesses. Each Village is designed around the needs of the individual community and may include all aspects of life: social needs, intellectual stimulation, physical well being. personal care and home maintenance. Here are some examples of the services provided:
Grocery shopping & delivery
House repair & home maintenance
Home health and personal care
Organized cultural events
Current events discussion groups
The Village Movement is a wonderful example of how todays elders are changing the paradigm of how and where one gets to grow old. Want to get involved? Want to get your community involved? Want to start your own village? I do……..Here are some resources…….
By Roberta Teller
From Age-ing to Sage-ing written by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller presents a new vision for growing older……one that looks at old age as the natural and meaningful next step in our life cycle- the journey to the full completion of life – not a dead end as we travel the latter years of life’s road.
Challenging cultural norms and beliefs that see old age as a time of deterioration and decline, this paradigm redefines the third stage of life as one that can be active and spiritual, contemplative and practical and purposeful and realistic. What is required is to do the inner work – through contemplative practices that allow us to look back, reflect, explore the lessons learned, harvest the gifts, make peace with the mistakes, understand the challenges – we ultimately see the vast panorama of our lives and from this, the wisdom flows.
Elderhood, besides being a time of deep personal reflection and introspection carries much responsibility. Following in the footsteps of many indigenous cultures where elders are revered for their great wisdom and honored for their contributions to the society, Rabbi Schacter calls upon elders to not only tap into their wisdom, as a form of personal growth, but to take the lessons learned, the life long skills and to share it with others through mentoring, volunteering, becoming a steward of the earth and creating a lasting legacy that lives beyond our years.
The strength of this book is that it is very real, honest and practical It addresses the realities of growing older while offering a multitude of choices and options to live an old age that allows for a deeper and more profound experience of life and an acceptance and preparation for death. And yes, Rabbi Schacter takes death out of the closet. Instead of denial, he views dying “as a unique opportunity for spiritual awakening.” He articulates the importance of being fully prepared for the experience of ones death. He explores spiritual beliefs about a life after death. He even provides exercises in the preparation for death.
And it is through stories, personal accounts, extensive research, exercises and practices, the authors offer the reader a road map into what Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls “an elderhood that is the anticipated fulfillment of life.” Age-ing to Sage-ing is a beautifully written and most important book that redefines what it means to grow old, be old and how to live fully, with meaning until we draw our last breath. In a culture that glorifies youth and demeans the elderly, the teachings of Rabbi Schacter-Shalomi offer a new way of living and being alive.
By Roberta Teller
WISE WOMAN STORYTIME
STORIES FROM REAL LIFE TOLD BY OUR OWN SONOMA COUNTY WISE WOMEN
Everyone welcome and encouraged to attend to hear life stories from our Elder Women
Stories are important because they connect us to one another, expand our horizons, preserve our history, communicate values and help us understand the world.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
6761 Sebastopol Ave.
For more information, contact Roberta Teller at email@example.com or 510-301-1706
Check out my blog: robertatellerblog.com
Carol Orsborne’s Article, AARP: Mortality Whitewash hits it on the head when she discusses how AARP, the largest publication for boomer adults continually whitewashes and dresses down the realities older adults face about growing old. We know that there are very happy and thriving 60, 70 & 80 year olds. We know that older adults are enjoying life, reinventing themselves, honoring their pasts and opening up to new vistas of travel. We get it that seniors are living and exploring life, all the while enjoying active and healthy lifestyles. Most older adults experience this and are witnesses to this in others. It is a reality for us.
The problem is that there is more to the story…….We also get sick, have physical challenges, and experience the deterioration of our own bodies. Loved ones fade away through disease and die. We grieve and mourn not only those we have lost, but parts of our lives that no longer exist or that we know one day will disappear and never be what was. We struggle and begin, to varying degrees, to come to some acceptance and peace about our own mortality. Being older is a time of paradoxes and complexities: a time of joy, yet a time of new challenges; a life stage of great opportunities mixed with loss and knowledge that things will never be the same. It is a time of life mixed with the light and the shadow.
Dr. Orsborn describes AARP’s romantic depiction of Valerie Harper as she was facing her mortality: “Faced with inoperable cancer, the beloved star of Rhoda, reacts just the way we’d want her to; with gritty determination and a hearty laugh.”
Reacts just the way we’d want her to??????? Are they serious?
That’s not the depiction I want to see of anyone facing death. I don’t want to see some sanitized version of the real story. I want the truth. I want to know how she grappled with the diagnosis: what choices she made about her medical care and how, and if she accepted her own death……
And that “hearty laugh.” Did she have a hearty laugh when she got the diagnosis or as she lie on her deathbed, surrounded by her loved ones?
We don’t want to see a happily dying Rhoda……We want to see the real Valeria Harper.
As older adults, we deserve and I would say, demand that we be represented with images, language and stories that mirror who we really are – complex, beings, living life as fully as we can, as we embrace both the gifts and challenges of growing older. We do not want our lives trivialized, simplified, purified and sanitized. We do not want the media fabricating who we are to make us look “pretty’ rather than real…….
Pretty may work for Hollywood, but not for us seniors……
Those of us who are getting older need real stories and we need to have real role models. Yes, we need to see images of vital, active, thriving 60+ people We are out there and we are doing great. But we also deserve and demand to see the truth: people grappling with serious life and death choices, families having to make challenging and difficult decisions. And we need to see the unaltered faces of older adults who, wrinkles, and all, are real human beings facing the challenges of growing older with courage, questions, spiritual quests, tears, fears and many unknowns.
I believe that it is incumbent upon us, the aging boomers, to step in and step up and to become the change agents ourselves. We must speak out, write, dramatize, tell stories about who we really We must let it be known who we are, what we are doing and how we are living.
So, get your pens out or open your computer. When you see an article or even a photo in a newspaper or magazine depicting a senior that is supposed to represent us, let your opinion be known whether it works for you or not. Write a letter to the editor or make a phone call. Write your own blog; read blogs written by real seniors. Talk to young people – your grandkids or your neighbors children. Let them know who you are and what you are doing.
We, as seniors, do not want to be whitewashed by the media nor do we want to be brainwashed about the realities of aging. We are complex, dynamic beings living our lives while facing the challenges of growing older. We are real. We have wrinkles, aches and pains and and are confronting the eventual reality of our demise in this life form.
Let’s face it, seniors live in in a youth oriented society where we become more and more invisible the older we get. We say, NO MORE…….AARP and all the other media……See us, feel us , take the time to know us……And to my fellow seniors, take charge and let us join forces to be the real voice and image of growing older. That’s really the only way that we will be honestly represented and truly visible….
By Roberta Teller