Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Old Age, Independence, Reality

From birth to death, human beings desire to retain their independence, to be included, not excluded, and to be appreciated as unique, worthy human beings. The infant screams to attempt to get what he/she desires.  As he gets a little older, he wants to run and jump as his heart desires regardless of his ability.  In order to grow into a mature adult, he needs to be permitted to stretch, to try to satisfy his desire to grow, to expand, as long as he does not injure himself.  As he matures he mimics that which he sees around him and by what his caregivers do he learns to be his own person.  It is essential to allow the child to experiment and to grow into a self sufficient person.  Being successful in his learning, he is able to establish himself as a special person with his own identity and his own special ways of achieving that which is necessary to make him whole, with certain similarities and differences.  With caution, most parents will recognize the need of their child as he grows to maturity.  The normal person needs to have the leeway to be himself throughout his maturing life.  Unfortunately, the person who is in his  extended maturity, the ultimate stage of his life, is restrained from  the freedom to be his own being, with his own needs, his own attributes, his special personhood, and more. Many old agers are denigrated, ignored, and categorized as folk who are not interesting,  not intelligent enough to make practical decisions, nor are they attractive or interesting enough to be incorporated in the lives of those they have raised or whose role model they once were, and the energy they used to raise the people who now frown upon and judge them is forgotten. In American society, winning prizes seems to be very important.  This can be seen in advertisements on television, in newspapers, magazines, in gambling establishments, and more.  Reality is often forgotten as folks waste their resources and gamble away their possessions for the far fetched possibility of being “the winner.”  We ignore what is needed to be happy and to live in reality.  Who has helped us when we grew up? Who gave us their energy, their interest, their effort so that we could grow into worthwhile human beings, if not been the person who is now old?

 As Jewish people, we have forgotten one of the ten commandments which offers the reward:  “Honor thy mother and father so that you may live long on earth.”

If we listen to the disrespect that  the younger generation has for their seniors, we often hear, for example, that they do not want to participate in a particular synagogue because there are  “mostly old people in that temple."

When the kosher laws are discussed, many of the younger people dismiss this practice as one for people who do not belong to this generation.  It was meant for “yesteryear,” and only the old believe in continuing in that practice today. 

It is an interesting wish we Jewish people express to those of our friends who are celebrating their birthday:  “May you live to a hundred and twenty.”

We must all remember that old age will come to all people some day, if they are fortunate enough to live a long life.  They, too, will become the old of the future.


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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