By Robin Kurss
A few years ago, I found myself in the middle of my life wondering where I’ve been, how I arrived at this point, and where I am going. I realized that I was in a serious period of transition…the dreaded “midlife”. Not too old, not too young but somewhere in between. Not many people look forward to being in this time and many refer to it as a crisis. It’s a time of uncertainty about your place in the world.
Having become an empty nester without a hankering for a shiny red sports car, I realized that everything was changing, and I had no sure way to navigate the path to where I was going. Lucky for me, I landed in a place that I could not have dreamed of! With a chance to reimagine my life on my own terms with no day-to-day responsibilities to anyone but my self-sufficient husband and my trusty poodle, I found the freedom, the time, and the courage to forge ahead on a new and exciting path. I started the most fulfilling career I could ever have imagined at the Buffalo Jewish Federation.
And I’ve begun to study Mussar, a set of Jewish teachings for cultivating spiritual growth and self-improvement. Through participating in a Wise Aging cohort, facilitated by my colleague Susan Schwartz, I have met new friends with which to share this stage of my life. I now see, as Gerontologist Barbara Waxman explains, that I am in Middlescence, a vibrant midlife. An extraordinary time to unearth my learned wisdom, find joy in the day to day and to live with newfound purpose in my family, my work, and my community.
This week’s Torah portion Bamidbar is the first Torah portion in the Book of Numbers and literally means in the wilderness or in the desert. The Israelites are traveling though the desert toward the promised land. Not dissimilar to midlife, they are wandering in transition. They yearn for the security of the past and all they have ever known, while taking their time in this in-between stage to figure out who they are, what they are meant to do, and what they will become. This portion also contains the first census of the Israelites that underscored how everyone mattered. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they had no individual identity or worth. Now, in the desert, the wilderness, the in between, everyone has a name and an identity of their own; every life is counted, and every life is precious.
Midlife and Middlescence are areas that the Jewish Federations of North America are beginning to dig deep into. And in partnership with them and our colleagues at the Jewish Community Center, Federation is also beginning to engage in conversations about Middlescence. We are hopeful that there will be a shift in thinking about our midlife years so that we look at this time as an opportunity to age wisely with joy, resilience, and a new sense of purpose. As we age, we still count, we still matter. Our lives are still precious and meaningful…Being in the middle is a great place to be!
Robin Kurss is a Director of Jewish Experience with LiNK Jewish Buffalo. She enjoys engaging with everyone in the community from birth to age 120.