"Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson held that old age is to be viewed not as a failing but as an ongoing opportunity to accomplish one's purpose in life. For Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of many other faiths, wisdom, defined as 'not merely the result of accumulated information' but as 'the ability to focus on the unifying element behind all information' represents a call to action. The commandment to 'rise up before the aged' (Leviticus 19:32) is not just a call for the young to respect their elders, but for the elders themselves to 'rise up before age' and continue to pursue their enhanced ability for spiritual fulfillment.

"Twentieth-century theologian Abraham Heschel added an existential component to the notion of spiritual wisdom, suggesting that if late life is 'an age of anguish and boredom,' then the answer must be to cultivate a sense of significant being as 'a thing of the spirit . . . not entertainment but celebration.' He added, poetically, that 'old men need a vision, not only recreation. Old men need a dream, not only a memory.' In this forward-thinking view, aging is a formative time, 'rich in possibilities to unlearn the follies of a lifetime, to see through inbred self deceptions, to deepen understanding and compassion, to widen the horizon of honesty, to refine the sense of fairness.'

"Heschel offered an antidote to the distorted equating of aging with death or dementia that I was taught as a doctor and that permeates our culture. 'The effort to restore the dignity of old age will depend upon our ability to revive the equation of old age and wisdom,' he wrote. 'Wisdom is the substance upon which the inner security of the old will depend forever. But the attainment of wisdom is the work of a lifetime.' Wisdom is thus more than an achievement of aging; it is as integral and essential to the aging process as walking is to the toddler, play is to the young child, and the pursuit of love and partnership is to the young adult."