• Marilyn Saltzman

"And you shall be a blessing"

It’s official. I don’t have to take off my shoes at the airport anymore! (Confession: I’m hoping that the TSA agent cards me on my next trip through security.)

Yup, I turned 75 this week. Three-quarters of a century! A time to reflect and to look forward.

I remember looking out at the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean when I turned 21 and thinking: What have I accomplished in life so far? And what will I accomplish – Can I be the one to cure cancer, become a famous author, make peace on earth? I was naïve and full of expectations.

Now, half a century later, I am more realistic. At 75, there are things I know for sure. I will not be the first woman on the moon. I will not be the one who cures leukemia. I will not win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

While I am still strong and healthy, I accept that my physical prowess is decreasing. I can’t walk against the current in the swimming pool vortex. I get out of breath walking uphill. And everything is sagging, from my jowls to my knees and, most sadly, everything in between. Ladies, you know what I mean.

And yet, Rabbi Jamie reminded me that Abraham was 75 when he began his fateful journey. I opened the Tanakh and found these words, “Go forth from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. And I will bless you; I will make your name great. And you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12, Lekh Lekha)

What struck me most was the phrase, “and you shall be a blessing.” So, at 75, my goal is not to climb Mt. Everest, become a renowned scientist or write the great American novel. Instead, I choose the path of being a blessing by mindfully changing lifelong habits to better serve others and myself.

I can be a blessing to the world by speaking out in pursuit of justice, by being an ally, by confronting inequity and iniquity. Too often I have chosen the path of reticence in pursuit of peace. I have ignored rather than confronted micro-aggressions, like comments that involved racial stereotyping. At 75, I pledge to be more mindful of when the right choice is loving rebuke or rebuttal rather than silence.

I can be a blessing to friends by being more open to receiving as well as giving. I have so many friends who model giving from the heart – who reach out without being asked, who intuit what is required and provide it. Still, I am often reluctant to request or accept help from others, whether it’s a ride or a meal. I am not very good at receiving compliments politely. I am more apt to say, “This old dress?” than acknowledge praise with a “thank you” and a smile. To honor my friends, I can graciously receive their generosity of word and deed.

I can be a blessing to my family by learning to be more patient – waiting to hear the rest of the story rather than interrupting with my own thoughts. I can be less judgmental – accepting choices, viewpoints and actions that are different from my own, whether it’s as simple as how to wear their hair or as complex as their political viewpoints. I can be more compassionate – quicker to listen with empathy, slower to jump in with potential solutions.

I can be a blessing to my loved ones by recognizing that my incessant worrying comes across as negativity and can be a burden and a damper. My journey is to be enthusiastic about a family member’s activity – a horseback adventure, a paddleboard ride, travels domestically or abroad – rather than focus on all that might go wrong. I want to channel my anxiety, shining a light by offering useful suggestions rather than projecting doom by appearing to look through a dark tunnel at potential hazards.

I can be a blessing to myself by practicing equanimity and trust. By recognizing when I am anxious, I can identify my fears and investigate how they are affecting me, both physically and emotionally, with curiosity and love. I can mindfully work to replace fear with trust, worry with gratitude and negativity with joy.

Inspired by Abraham, I embark, at 75, on discovering new pathways – speaking my truth, accepting kindness and harnessing worry. Though I can keep my shoes on, I don’t really need them for this journey. What I do need is Abraham’s faith and courage. Please wish me bon voyage.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” (Kohelet, Chapter 3)

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