A spontaneous act: a 17 month old reaches his little hand onto the lap of a 1oo year old woman and pulls on her fingers to wish her a Good Shabbos. And then, satisfied with the enthusiastic response he goes from person to person, across the women's section, at the end of the Shabbos service at the Assisted Living Center.
I watched with tears in my eyes as these elderly ladies, many dressed beautifully in their Shabbos finery, caught this little tiny hand as they greeted him with smiles, "Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos." While he doesn't speak yet, he certainly communicates, and has internalized the social interactions of eye contact, handshaking, the importance of touching and interpersonal connection. That these gestures were familiar was confirmed by his 4 year old brother, proudly remarking that 'this is the first time he has gone around to wish everybody a Good Shabbos!" Both little boys know that this is what is done at the end of the Shabbos davening; this is how we grow together, and become a community.
In the Men's section, the little toddler walked between the wheel chairs, waiting patiently until each man returned his handshake. Even though he uses just a few fingers, and alternates hands, the littlest member of this 'congregation/community' is a participant, a member of the tribe!
While I stood in the background, I knew I was the acknowledged (relatively young) grandmother- I have not felt this 'young'-- and I mean, really felt 'young' as I did while watching these beautiful elderly ladies in their 80's, 90's and 100's I found myself looking up to them as role models to me- yes I hope I look that good! I hope I have such a sense of style. I hope I can still daven and read or remember the prayers. And yet, when one of the women told me she has 25 great-grand children, I cringed when she told me she hardly sees any of them. I asked her to 'keep an eye on mine.' I hope I will always feel like I see my kids very frequently.
I don't live near my own grand children, although we are within driving distance- while I do see them often, and talk to them almost daily, I am grateful that they can be a source of nachas and joy to the many 'bubbies' and zaydes' they meet where they live.
It's a sort of "reverse green bubbie" phenomenon- reaching out wherever you are. Connecting across the generations is good for all of us at every age. It's life well lived, appreciated for what we have in common. Our humanity. Our capacity to reach out and connect, hands across the generations is a good prescription for a healthy heart.
So whether you are about to embark on a Thanksgiving celebration, and/or you are thinking about your Shabbos table- expand your age span - and love the ones you're with!