A funny thing happened to me during my recent trip to France and Israel; I turned 60.
Rather than trot out all the usual clichés that go with aging and changing decades, I will simply say that, though the alternative is far worse (oops– a cliché!), this was not a milestone birthday that I have been looking forward to. The trip was amazing, an incredible opportunity, but being far from family and friends made me even more uneasy about reaching this age that, no matter how hard I might try, I simply could not define as young.
Happily for me-– very happily-– my fellow travelers in Israel helped mark the special day. They couldn’t have been nicer, even having the hotel where we were staying produce a cake in my honor. In what has to be a quintessential Israeli story, the cake is produced, inscribed with the words“Happy Birthday to Skolnik Gerald.” I was only surprised that it didn’t have by passport number on it! We all had a good laugh about it; so warm and personal…
But back in the States, my family was waiting for me with the most wonderful gift of all. My older daughter, who is living in Okinawa with our son-in-law, a Lieutenant in the United States Navy, had flown in to surprise me. My wife presented her to me as a gift as soon as I returned from the airport. After duly closing my eyes and promising to keep them closed, there was my daughter, wrapped in a ribbon. The video of that encounter was posted on Facebook, and I’m told it made a whole lot of people cry. It was a great moment.
After being back in the States for just a day and a half, my wife and I, and our daughter, flew to Orlando to visit our son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren. This birthday celebration was the gift that just kept on giving! Having two of our far-flung children in the same place at the same time was thrilling, and with our daughter-in-law and grandchildren there also, I was a happy man.
All of which brings me to the subject of this piece: my first “senior discount.” Note well that I didn’t say my first senior moment; there have been more than a few of those.
One night in Orlando, we packed everyone into two cars and went off for an early dinner (when else does one eat dinner in Florida, right??). As I was preparing to pay the bill, the cashier asked if anyone was over 60. “I am,” I said, deciding to embrace my new status as an elder. “Well, then, you are entitled to a 10 percent discount on your dinner. Congratulations!”
“Really,” I thought. Happy birthday to me; 10 percent is 10 percent, right? No one, including me, minds paying less than expected. An unexpected bonus! Given that we were in Florida, my wife suggested that they would do better to give the discount to people under sixty, given that there are fewer of them, and they’re far more likely to eat more and stay longer. But Florida is Florida…
It was only after paying the slightly- less- than-expected bill that it took me very little time to come to a significant realization. Inconsequential though it obviously was in larger context of things, I had just passed through a significant life transition. I had become a senior– at least in that restaurant.
We have no trouble at all intuitively understanding the existential importance of a brit milah, a bar or bat mitzvah, a wedding, divorce, or even a funeral. They each signify the transition from one state of being to another: from prenatal to life itself, from new life to covenanted Jew, from young child to fully empowered member of the Jewish community, from single to married, from married to single again, from life to death. Most rites of passage are clear in their import.
But aging? Not so much. It struck me as odd, a person who lives in the world of Jewish symbols, that it took a simple 10 discount for my first dinner out as a “senior” to intuit that something fundamental had changed. And I felt strangely lacking a way to recognize the transition within my religious framework.
Ah, Florida… is there a more logical place on earth for that realization to sink in?
With good luck and the grace of God, there will be many more intuitions of aging yet to be experienced. And again, with good luck and the grace of God, my friends and the members of my family, younger and older, will be there to experience them with me. But for now, having enjoyed that dinner, I’m looking forward to taking that discount idea out for a spin at the movies… if I’m not too young!