The Secret of Youth

It is necessary for a
person to be able to adapt to situations which are less than ideal. “…the
youth is renewed like the eagles.” (Tehilim 103:5) The ability to renew youth
doesn’t mean the ability to turn back the clock and become young again.
Rather, the verse is referring to the capacity for self-renewal which transforms
a negative outlook into a positive one.

Everyone knows that there is nothing like a negative attitude
for destroying enthusiasm and dampening a person’s energy. The transition to a
positive outlook is like a renewal of youth because it releases the energy,
drive and enthusiasm we associate with youth. The Hebrew for youth is
רענ (naar), related to the word for awakening. The
awakening of energy is the very essence of youth. “…they that wait upon the
L-rd shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they
shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Yesh. 40:31). Both
verses refer to eagles. It seems that we can learn something about adapting to
situations in life from the eagle. There is a midrash that says that every ten
years an eagle flies high toward the sun, burns off its feathers and wings,
falls into the ocean and grows new wings and new feathers. Ten years later it
does the same thing until it is a hundred years old. Then, after its feathers
are burned, it falls into the ocean and does not come out. That, according to
the midrash, is the life cycle of an eagle.

But we know, of course, that this is not the
life cycle of an eagle. That’s simply not what happens in reality. So there
are two possibilities: One is that we are not talking about an eagle; that the
word nesher was used to refer to some other bird that might have actually
gone through the cycle that the midrash describes. The other more likely
possibility is that Chazal are not talking about an actual bird. They’re
talking about something else—a spiritual reality—and used the eagle as a
symbol for a spiritual power because they regarded the eagle as the physical
representation of that power in the world. In any case, we see that the eagle is
a symbol of renewal.

The eagle’s life-cycle lasted ten years. A person’s life
is not a simple continuum. His life changes. In ten years it certainly changes.
Every decade in a person’s life is a different experience. There are different
things that bother him, different things that are important to him, different
things he can do and different things that he can’t do. It’s conceivable
that a person could have a problem in one period of his life which he simply
outgrows as he moves on to the next period.

For example, a person who is orphaned when he is a child goes
through a severe trauma. Being a child or an adolescent without a parent is a
terrible thing. That child may feel very negatively about himself and about his
life. He’s had a hard time. He may feel that he is tremendously disadvantaged
and be pessimistic about his future. But when he is twenty, his feelings will
change. He is not a child anymore. He’s not an adolescent. He has a sense of
independence and maturity that makes it possible for him to reassess what being
an orphan means to him. Now that he’s on his own, being an orphan doesn’t
really make him that much different from everybody else. Once he’s eighty
years old, being an orphan certainly won’t be the kind of issue it was for him
when he was twelve. He’s changed. In every period of his life he’s changed,
and as he has changed, he simply grew out of problems that seemed overwhelming
at the time.

Problems induce habits of thought that can persist long after
the problem is no longer a real issue. A person who doesn’t realize that he
has changed and who doesn’t take stock of himself may not realize that he is
thinking in old ways that are no longer relevant, that he continues to relate to
life as though he were dealing with a serious problem which was set aside a long
time ago. Part of adapting to negative situations is being aware that a even
though it may not change, a person can change and outgrow a difficult
situation.