Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How Old Is "Old?"

A year or so ago, two of the teen aged girls at Open Door Home in our city needed to interview an older person for a school assignment. Open Door is a home for children whose parents can not or will not care for them.

I meet the criteria for “older person” so the Director at Open Door, Beth called me and asked if I would mind stopping by so the girls could interview me.

Beth, who holds a Masters in Social Work, has been at Open Door for 10 years and was instrumental in building a much needed Open Door Home for Boys 12 years of age and older in additon to the older home for young children and older girls that was established here in our city 50 years ago.

Beth's good balance between love and discipline has helped to grow the two locations into "Home" for the children and youth rather than a business.

I went by and Beth introduced me to the girls. One of the girls was a 14 year old named Sarah . Beth told me, in Sarah’s hearing, how proud she is of Sarah for making good marks in school. I congratulated Sarah and expressed interest so she immediately got her report card to show me. We had a nice visit.

When we started the interview, the first question Sarah asked was, “To what do you attribute living to such a long old age?” The other girls also asked questions related to "old age." Later when Beth was showing me out, she said she hoped the girls did not hurt my feelings by making such an issue of my “old age.”

Of course, Beth knew as well as I that it did not bother me. When I lived in the Atlanta area, I was not as ancient as I am now but I often spoke to Senior Citizens groups on subjects related to aging as my undergraduate degree included a certificate in Gerontology.

One of the persons I love to quote when I speak to a civic or church group about “aging” is Madeline L’Engle. L'Engle said,“One of the nice things about growing old is you do not lose any of the other ages you have been.”

Wow! Think of that!

It is true. Like Sarah, I know what it was like to be 14 and think 30 is old. I know what it is like to be 30 and think 50 is old. I know what it is like to be 50 and think 80 is old. I know what it is like to be 80 and know that 80 and even 100 is just a number! I know also it is a number nearer the end of the counting.

But at the end of the counting, a new day will dawn and the counting will start over. We gather in church every Sunday to celebrate the truth that what we call “time” does not have the last word over what God calls eternity. For the Christian, "Death" does not have the last word over what God calls "life!"


Joan said...

well said! I appreciate these comments. Among my greatest regrets regarding society's attitudes about aging: First, one DOES learn something through life's experiences, but it seems to be impossible to pass down that wisdom to younger generations, who usually dismiss older people as "not understanding" or "out of touch." Second, years of life teaches us that much of what we believe in politics, society, and almost any other realm is totally dependent upon perspective (think of the visual-arts definition of perspective). The same object, idea, whatever looks different according to where you are in relationship to it. Younger people of differing views often don't seem to realize that -- it apparently takes an accumulation of years to make that connection, by which time a person has aged to the point of being dismissed by younger thinkers as irrelevant.

Ruth said...

Thanks Joan. Your additions are so important. If we could learn from mistake of our elders, it would be so positive for us. But most of us just go on... insisting on dismissing the accumulated wisdom of those who have gone before...

Beth said...

well said - both of you.

I saw a special on one of the odd channels a few weeks ago, that was about aging.

The show examined the difference in western societies and some of the oriental societies in which people live more actively into older age.

One of the factors that seemed to attribute to the difference is that older people are treated with more respect and admiration. They are an intregral part of the family and the society. As opposed to our society in which age is not considered of any benefit to anyone.

I think that does matter.

Andy McCullough said...

I really liked what you wrote. I have seen what Beth saw on that odd channel first hand. (and in Russia and Africa too) My friends could not fathom the concept when I would tell them that my 90 year old grandmother lived alone. When you retire you move in with your family. You also look at the world more from a family (or even socity) viewpoint than an individual. It was a good reminder to me that there are redeeming values from every cultural and lessons we can learn as believers.

Do think, Aunt Ruth, we have lost a respect for elders as we have become more of a modern and less agrarian society in the West? When you were younger did young people respect and value the previous generation more than you see now?

sherle said...

...and now that the 'baby boomer generation' is turning 50 and beyond there is suddenly a new respect for age!!! Go figure! Do you remember a few years back when that generation was saying 'Don't trust anyone over 30.'???

Somebody actually asked me my age last week! I said I'm 69 right now but in March I will be 39 again!

Jane said...

An excellently written post. As you have said many times, Aunt Ruth, 'age is not a disease'. That is so true.