In chapter 34 of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy it shares with the reader the end of Moses’ life. It says,
“Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. “
As I was reviewing this chapter the other day, this one verse jumped off the page because recently I have observed how some folks refer to, think about and interact with elderly residents of this fair city. Most people will be respectful when called upon to be, but for the most part many of us try not to think of elderly people at all. I suppose because it makes some of us feel uncomfortable about our own mortality.
Ignoring older folks would be bad enough but it doesn’t always end there. Others intentionally berate them as the major cause of stifled growth and forward thinking. While still more people, probably with the best of intentions, treat our aged citizenry as though they can’t think for themselves, read a newspaper, understand the contemporary culture, or even remember what time of day it is. It is shameful how many of us downgrade the life experience and pure humanity of those who’ve passed a certain age. I will grant you that a percentage of our senior population may need more help then they used to and even some may need a significant amount of assistance, but that is no excuse to be condescending or disrespectful to these marvelous people who have been the backbone of our lives, communities, and in some cases, are very existence.
Several of my “seasoned” friends are caught between two very difficult emotional situations. The first being their awareness of their “acute faculties” dwindling slightly even though much of their reasoning, experience, imagination and general physical ability are just fine. The second involves the personal challenges arising from their families beginning to treat them, long before it is necessary, as some sort of invalid who can’t find their own teeth in the morning or remember where they put the cat who died four years ago.
Truthfully, I don’t know why we become so impatient with those who are advancing in years. Most of the folks I interact with who are on the other side of 70 years of age are still quite vibrant, interactive, independently mobile, and able to quite competently involve themselves with the world around them. Yet, some of their friends and family treat them as though they have lost the “last grain of sand” in the hourglass because it takes them a little longer to physically travel from point A to point B.
What in the world are we thinking when we end up treating these marvelous people as though they are “in the way”?
Just a few days ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine named Nelson. My friend is well over 70 and has begun to seriously complain (although with a strained smile on his face) about the overwhelming “loving attention” he has been receiving from his children and grandchildren.
What were all the complaints about? His loved ones have started to lecture him about how to live his life as though he suddenly turned into a child that needed to be scolded. Nelson told me, “I realize I don’t move as fast as I used to and I even will admit I probably don’t eat what I should, but it seems all of a sudden I have eight or nine “parents” all wanting to tell me about what I ought to be doing.“ He went on to say, “I know they’re trying to help me and I truly appreciate their efforts, but I’m not in the nursing home yet. My body may be slower but my mind is still just fine, thank you very much!”
When we look around our cities, churches, and organizations, what ought to come to mind is the blood, sweat and tears that went into making these places…these collections of humanity…. worth living beyond their beginnings. I can’t help but be thankful for the work and commitment it took to bring someone’s dreams alive and then doing the committed work to allow it to be sustainable.
Beloved, our elderly population doesn’t need to be chastised or lectured as though they were children. No! These are grown folks who have lived through more than most of us could imagine. They need to be honored and respected because they’ve earned it.
As a pastor, I am perfectly aware that many older folks seem to be “set in their ways” to the point of seemingly blocking any progress that may be desired. However, my experience has taught me that if you respect the senior audience and share carefully the thoughtfulness of a differing opinion or direction, they will listen and they will (if respected, honored and listen to) be supportive.
In opposition to this belief, I can absolutely guarantee one sure result – If you don’t honestly involves those who, in no small way, helped get you where you currently find yourself, then you will be in for an unnecessary and elongated fight.
Some say, “Why bother? All they ever do is complain and stop progress.”
Beloved, there are plenty of people who complain too much and get in the way of progress and they aren’t all over 70. It would be a mistake to assign disagreements and cantankerous behavior to just age.
Truth be told, if you are unwilling to sincerely engage any age group before you begin a process or direction, especially when the desired action will greatly interact with their daily lives, then you are being foolish. If you want to build a new youth center and never engage the youth and their thoughts and desires, you are foolish. If you want to transform the infrastructure of the community which has a high percentage of elderly in it, and refuse to engage them honestly and sincerely, then don’t blame them when “all hell breaks loose”.
Being inclusive of our elderly’s experience and wisdom while intentionally engaging them as equal participants is not only productive; it is ethically and morally the right thing to do. Try this strategy and I assure you those white haired, slow walking, denture wearing and Tylenol taking folk will surprise you with how truly understanding and supportive they can be.
Just thought I would give some of you something to think about.