They never cease to amaze me with some of the things they spew forth, intentionally or inadvertently. And, I do mean “spew forth.” I have noticed that once folks reach a certain age they tend not to mince words and political correctness is not a priority.
These days it is not at all unusual for septuagenarians, octogenarians and people in their nineties to lead very active lives. Many are physically healthy, intellectually sharp, mentally alert, and with memories that would rival some of us Baby Boomers. They are integrally involved in our communities — active in our families, neighborhoods, churches, and even in the workplace.
Yet, too often, we underutilize and under appreciate this valuable resource. We are quick to underestimate the contributions our seniors can still make.
Some of us see our older citizens only as frail and forgettable. Some see them as sitting prey to be taken advantage of, exploited and victimized. Too often, and despicably, too many of them are abused, misused, scammed and gauged, pilfered and raped by both family and strangers.
Others see our elderly only in the context of complex social problems — like the exorbitant cost of healthcare and prescription drugs, or the poor conditions in nursing homes. Addressing these issues for our sick and frail is critical, but it should not be at the cost of seeing our older citizens as whole people, rather than as problems to be solved.
These tendencies are indicative of how we as a society regard old age generally. There is a pervasive reverence for youth and all its beauty, vigor and prowess — albeit temporary and fleeting. We are bombarded with the message that we must hold on to youth as long as we can. This preoccupation can be blinding. Society tells us that growing old is something not to appreciate and to savor, but to dread.
But there are countless examples of older Americans who have continued to make important and lasting contributions to the quality of our lives well into their 80s and beyond. President Ronald Reagan, Justice Thurgood Marshall, sea explorer Jacques Cousteau, painter as well as photographer Gordon Parks, all demonstrated great vitality and viability, enriching our lives with their wisdom, experience, and character.
But wisdom is not all that seniors pass on to us. In families and communities of all races, ethnicities and cultures, there are grand old “dames” and “dons,” matriarchs and patriarchs, whose values and traditions guide our lives. Our views regarding God and gallantry, country and cooking, family and fellow man, and the world of work are shaped in large part by the values and views of our elders. These are the principles and practices we live by and, over the course of our own lives, pass on to our own children and grandchildren.
We, as a society, must take extra special and tender loving care of our frail elderly, making sure that they have what they need. But we also need to allow ourselves to be enriched by the wisdom, knowledge and experience of our older citizens, enlisting their help at every opportunity.