I am 73 years old, and since coming to Israel six years ago, I am officially a vatik, a senior citizen entitled to discounts on the bus and to reduced admissions at sundry places. Some people actually offer me their seats on public transportation. It makes me uncomfortable to be the recipient of these kindnesses and to realize that, at least in the eyes of some, I am old. I always thought the other guy was old and I was not, but that illusion is now shattered.
When I immigrated to Israel in 2010, I was automatically enrolled in a 55-plus club, no longer considered a young man. In my conversations with other members of the group, no one ever expressed to me a desire to be young again. All my new friends desired was to be healthy and not be dependent on the kindness of others, even if they were one’s own children. Moreover, the married couples seemed to enjoy growing old together. It was a time in life free of posturing or acquiring more stuff and, instead, allowing love to flow freely between spouses and parents and children and to be satisfied with little. A perfect life was simply to grow old together in good health.
The Age of Adaline presents a unique perspective on aging. Adaline Bowman was born in 1908, married, and had a daughter. No long after her husband died in a work-related accident while building the Golden Gate Bridge, she drives to her parents’ home. Snow begins to fall, making the road hazardous. Her car crashes and a freak electrical storm ensues, creating an unusual chain reaction that causes Adaline to remain 29 years old forever.
Adaline researches her condition but cannot find clues as to why she remains young as others grow old. After being accosted and frightened by local and federal authorities, she resolves to leave San Francisco and establish a new identity every decade.
All is calm until she meets Ellis Jones, a wealthy philanthropist, at a New Year’s Eve party. She at first rejects his advances. But Ellis persists pursuing her and finally convinces her to have a date with him. At the date, Ellis reveals much about himself, but Adaline reveals little of her past. Their relationship deepens and Ellis invites her to visit his parents on the occasion of their 40th wedding anniversary.
When Ellis’ father, William, sees her for the first time, he instinctively calls her Adaline, for she reminds him of a woman with whom he had a past relationship and to whom he intended to propose marriage. Although Adaline informs him that Adaline was her mother, William is still puzzled at her stark resemblance to the love of his life so many years ago. The unraveling of the mystery of Adaline’s past and present life with William and Ellis makes us ponder the meaning of aging in our youth and old age.
The Ethics of the Fathers makes some important observations about reaching various stages of our life. The Sages tell us that at 5 years old, we should begin our study of the Bible, at 10 we should begin study of Mishna, the Oral Law, at 13 we begin to perform the commandments, at 18 we marry, at 20 we find a vocation, at 30 we are at our peak of physical strength, at 40 we understand life at a deeper level, at 50 we can give advice, and so the Sages continue until 100. At different ages, we are ready to experience different things, to develop ourselves in different ways, and to make our own unique contributions to society depending on our strength, our talents and our wisdom.
Adaline’s dilemma is that she is stuck at age 29. Life is imperfect because it stays the same. Finally, when her dilemma is serendipitously resolved, she notices a grey hair and her immediate response is “perfect.” Now she can grow old with someone she loves and now life becomes more meaningful because she experiences the phenomenon of change.
The possibility of change makes the present more precious. When we sense that life is transient, every day is cherished. When Adaline’s finally ages, it reminds us that growing old is a good thing for it makes us treasure each moment. Life now can be perfect.