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  Chapter 10 from
Buy Green Bananas
Observation on self, family, life

By Rabbi Berel Wein 

Other Available Chapters
13  16  27 

Buy Green Bananas

The morbid “black humor” advice given older people is: “Don’t buy green bananas.” However, following such advice is self-defeating and self-confirming. Numerous geriatric surveys and studies have shown that older people who have definite plans and goals in mind for their future live longer and healthier lives that those who just sit around and patiently wait out their days. One must always have a goal in mind. People look forward to a family wedding, a birth or an anniversary, the completion of a book or a degree, or traveling on a cruise or a trip. Somehow the human mind is strong enough to allow us to will ourselves to continue to live. By having definite goals in our mind and heart, even if those goals appear initially to be far distant in time, we are able to add resources to our mental strength, and length to our years. Activity, mental and physical, is the key to productive longevity.

Having such future long-range goals changes the definition of the elusive term “quality of life’’ used by so many people today. I have never understood how one human being can judge another human being’s “quality of life.” I feel that any reasoning person will be aware that there are truly no objective standards for measuring the desire to continue living, even under apparently difficult, painful and trying circumstances. There are situations when people suffer crippling disease and horrendous pain. To the healthy observer, the sufferer would certainly now prefer death because of the very poor “quality of life” remaining for him or her. However, a rabbi friend of mine told me of visiting a terminally ill patient, a Holocaust survivor, who constantly needed strong sedatives because of the painful nature of his sickness. The man became lucid for a few moments and recognized his rabbi sitting at the side of the bed. He whispered to the rabbi, “Tell the doctors to keep me alive as long as they can. My granddaughter is going to give birth any day now, and I want to live to have a great-grandchild!” For this patient, “quality of life” no longer had anything to do with pain or sedation. Rather, the only issue involved was living long enough to know that he was now a great-grandfather.

There is also a sense of reward and accomplishment present when one works on a project knowing full well that he or she will not be around for the completion of that project. Realizing that what we do and accomplish will live on after us affords us a tangible sense of immortality. Above all else is the knowledge that we will be remembered. The rabbis of the Mishnah phrased it well when they said: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the tasks. But neither are you free to withdraw from those tasks.” This rule applies to us at all stages of life. Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” is perhaps his greatest piece of musical composition. So keep on planning, working, and accomplishing. And if there is a good buy on green bananas go right ahead and purchase them, and be fully confident that you will be around long enough to enjoy them.

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