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Today I had lunch with my dear friend, Mike, his wife, Lois, and their friend Rabbi Siegel.  Yes, the famous Rabbi, who in the 70s denounced his congregation’s materialism and shallow religious convictions. We ate sushi and talked about spirituality. What does it really mean? How to define it?

After an hour and many cups of green tea, several miso soups, salads, sushi, and struggling to define what spirituality really is, we came to a mutual conclusion that it cannot be defined but it can be experienced.  The closest description of spirituality would be living in grace: in state of peace with oneself and with the world as it is, without the need to define anything, but with the will to be in the presence of life itself.

After we satisfied the definition of spirituality — for the day — the conversation took an unexpected turn toward aging and dying.

Mike’s central concern about aging is not becoming a burden to his children. “I always remember the story of the old man who could no longer keep up with others in his tribe,” Mike said in an email later that day, “and ended his life by not crossing the river with the others, but sat on the shore and awaited nature’s call.”

This is Mike’s life in grace: not to expect and not to be a burden.  It made me deeply sad.

Rabbi Siegel thought differently. He believes we need to allow our children to take care of us in our old age and give back what they had received from us.

As for me? I grew up in Poland in an era of multi-generational households. Not taking care of our old ones was as foreign to us as not eating or not praying every day.

We witnessed aging and dying. We kept our dead ones at home before the burial to have a chance to pray, to give thanks for their lives, to touch their hands and to kiss their foreheads for the last time, and to say slow goodbyes.

Initially I thought I agreed with Rabbi Siegel. His theory seemed fair.

Yes, let’s let our children to take care of us. This way, we the aging ones, can learn humility by being dependent again and our children can learn humanity by taking care of us.

Later that day a new reflection came upon me. If I like the Rabbi’s theory, so familiar to me because of my upbringing, why do I exercise the opposite as a parent?  Why do I protect my own teenage son from the slightest “bad news of the day”?

I think like Rabbi Siegel but I live like Mike.  Can I resolve myself to a clear choice one day?

13 Responses to “Sushi and spirituality”

  1. blogolicious says:

    This fascinating essay left me hungry for more insights into the nature of spirituality!

  2. khaled says:

    I love this part when you said “learn humility by being dependent again and for the children to learn humanity by taking care of us”
    well, This whole things depend on how you are raised, if you are raised to think about things from an individualistic prospective then you would think that you would burden your children when you age and accordingly shouldn’t expect much from them..but if you were raised to think more collectively, us, then it’s not even negotiable, and these children HAVE TO give back, because life is not about I, it’s about us, I helped you when you were young, you help me when I start to age..
    Cheers from Egypt

  3. danutahinc says:

    Khaled,
    Thank you for your comment 😉
    I am thinking about love that is bigger than the “individual” and bigger than the “collective” — can we, humans, ever get there?

  4. AnitaR says:

    I think in today’s society we are very much part of the sandwich generation. We are caring for younger children, as our children grow from infancy, childhood, to adolesence and young adulthood.
    Also caring for aging parents, as the highest growing population is age 90 and above. Modern medicine and longetivity allowing a longer life span. We caught somewhat in the middle, yet why make it stressful and worrisome? We have learned from our elders, and can respect and reflect on their life spans. We also learn from the innocence of youth and fresh view of world. All to often we can tainted in the “in between stage” and forget what is important. Living each day for the simple blessings that we are given.

  5. danutahinc says:

    Anita,
    Thank you for your beautiful thoughts — it haven’t occured to me to think that we, indeed, live in a society much different than the one from, let’s say, fifty years ago.
    More to ponder!

  6. Mike Clark says:

    Thoughtfulness is also a form of grace. All three of our adult children and their spouses work at demanding jobs, while raising young children. My admiration for them is boundless. So when our time comes to disassemble we would hope that we had planned for that contingency based on what we presently know. It is why we invest in long term care insurance; why we are on the waiting list for a senior community providing a variety of levels of care as needed–from independence, to assisted to nursing care.
    We raised our children to be independent, risk-taking and hopefully discerning and caring persons. We released them from dependency to proceed independently on their own paths, eventually reaching a crossroads when all of us arrive in our maturity as true friends and equal partners in the life quest. This is grace itself.
    There is also a significant fault line between allowing our adult children to care for us, which is different from expecting our adult children to care for us. To have our expectations to be the focus of what level of care our children will provide for us is a set up for frustration on both sides, possibly even anger if any of the expectations are unmet. Any giving has to come from the heart, not what we expect, and that goes for any relationship.

  7. AnitaR says:

    I enjoyed Mike’s comment, and agree that giving has to come from the heart. I am blessed to be the mother of vibrant 2 year old and to be the daughter of two healthy parents in their 60’s. I have seen and witnessed first hand how hard it can be on people to manage both the balancing needs of active children, careers, and lives to the needs of aging parents. I advocate for people when they are of sound mind and body to communicate with your children/siblings, so that when the time does come the fault lines are not jaded and anger/resent and frustration set in.
    Life is meant to be lived to the fullest, enjoying each day in all that it was meant to be!

  8. Ian Campbell says:

    I have been thinking about the argument that peace is somehow different for different generations. That is the very young and the very old find peace by being taken care of by the active generation. But I think Mike is correct, we, or at least I, am never comfortable simply being taken care of. We are a species that thrives on the collective, on a shared sense of “us”. Why then should the elder generation be relegated to one of I living off the social equity the earned as a younger individual.
    I, and I think most people, need to take an active roll in the community they inhabit, be it the family or some larger frame work. But that does not I think make Rabbi Siegel necessarily wrong. Rather, I think ever generation has its own specific ways of giving back, and for collecting from the encompassing generations. True, the middle adult generation is frequently the care giver; providing succor for their elders and children. But the elder generation freely trade the knowledge and wisdom that the have gleaned through their years back to the younger souls who support them. The youngest generations in turn also play their roll. Through their expanded curiosity and ingenuity they create new styles of life, helping humanity move forward and adapt to an ever changing world.

  9. Traces from face book: […] 2, 2010 by danutahinc Who knows where a lunch can lead? In a previous post, I recalled the pleasure of meeting Rabbi Martin Siegel of Columbia, Maryland, over conversation, […]

  10. danutahinc says:

    Ian,

    Thank you for your post. Very interesting comments.

    I wonder if the ultimate decision of making the right choice would ever be accessible to us as human beings.

    I feel that because we are able to identify ourselves with so many aspects of life, we can easily fall into the presumption that the right choices doesn’t really exist.

    Let’s ponder a bit more ….

  11. brenK says:

    If spirituality is a state of grace, with being at peace with yourself and the world, I think we can strive for that. I can’t see how we can achieve it completely as we deal with lots of things every day that tend to disrupt it and take our minds to dealing with the event. I still do think we need to recognize right from wrong (although it is relative sometimes) and not be at peace when witnessing blatant injustice. We need to act if we can to do our part to help right the wrong. We may not act most of the time, but we can act some of the time. That I think enhances our spirit. As far as the younger taking care of the elders, I do think if parents raised your lovingly, you do have a moral responsibility, and desire, to help your parents. The help would take different forms, and may not be bringing your parents into your home, but it should take some helpful form. Your parents will leave you at some point, and hopefully you will have felt better sharing and helping them to have the best life they can, under the circumstances.

  12. Brandi P says:

    I agree withe some of rhe comments above. It depends on your up bringing wheather you want to be taken care of or feel you are a burden. I personally would feel I am a burden even if I hired someone in my old age to take care of me. I would feel a burden. Rabi Siegel ‘s presective is nice but no everyone’s life fits into this mode of taking care of of the ones who took care of you. Life is more complicated than that people should just do what is best.

  13. susan says:

    Trying to protect your children from reality, is it really protecting them or you as a parent are you protecting yourself. I think children today know much more than in the past but the sources to this information is not most commonly parents sadly. Later if the time comes for them to take care of their parents how much should the keep from them as a form of protection? Death is a part of life, and no amount of protection can shield anyone from it, protection should not be done by denial.