I've heard it said that "old age is not for sissies." Well, I'm here to tell you that is VERY true. How do I know? According to my physical therapist, whose title was "Senior Physical Therapist Director," I am a "senior" which indicates to me that I must now be in "old age." What do I think about that? A LOT!
In many cultures around the world, the elder citizens are considered the "fount of knowledge" and are revered for their hard-earned wisdom. They can be judges, doctors, educators or advisors, but their words are considered golden and important.
In American culture, we have forgotten how to respect our elders, so those of us who join those ranks suffer disrespect, ridicule, bodily harm, theft of our treasures, hunger, little medical care and a forced retirement. Would it really be so bad to allow our elders to sit on boards various companies to share their expertise and perspective?
I can't help but wonder if this attitude toward our elderly is related to our "throw-away culture. You see, while we all seem to pay lip service to "recycling," I wonder how many individuals are truly dedicated to recycling as much of their used items as possible. I often see the answer to that unasked question in the fast food burger containers that litter our streets, or the mountains of trash collected and whisked away from our sight and buried in a landfill that can probably pollute our water. And it doesn't stop there. We throw away old telephones, tv's, cars, computers, toasters, grills, carpets, picture frames, sewing machines, clothes, shoes, food.....and our elderly.
However, respect is not the only loss of old age. I have had many deaths in my family over the years: a grandparent here, a great aunt there. But, as I grow older, it seems the deaths quadruple so that I suffer one or two every year. Most of the deaths over which I mourn are people my age or just a little older. I guess we only have two choices, anyway: we either get older or we die. Regardless of the fact that most Americans seem hell-bent on pretending death is a fantasy and will never happen to them, just like the bumper sticker says, "No one gets out of earth alive."
Last week, I spoke with two of my friends who were each supporting someone diagnosed with cancer. I have several friends battling cancer right now, and most of us are cautious and attentive to the cautions of regular breast and prostate exams. Finally we are beginning to exercise more regularly and eat a more healthy diet. We don't stay up as late as we used to so we can get more quality sleep. Many of us are drinking more moderately or not drinking at all. And, several of us are trying to quit smoking and have been aided by the government's price hike on tobacco products. But, death is all around us and we wonder which of us might be next. Even with these concerns, we continue to live life to the fullest so we won't have too many regrets when the time comes.
Another indignity is that our bodies are NOT what they used to be. For example, some of us are now becoming incontinent and having accidents ranging from tiny leaks to major floods. We can't stay awake all night and dance even if we desperately want to. Some of us continue to hike up mountains and jump out of airplanes; but, most of us are cognizant that if we break a bone, it will likely not heal like it used to and we will require surgery. Our tummies seem not to be able to eat as many spicy enchiladas or tabasco-smothered greens as we used to, at least, not without having a horrific bout of indigestion. A little gardening or housework that we used to do before work may begin to require an afternoon nap. And some of us have to have hearing aids to listen to the Supremes or the Rolling Stones; or trifocals to watch a decent tv show (of which I think there are few). THINGS ARE JUST NOT WHAT THEY USED TO BE.
And, so as not to depress myself, I will only offer one additional concern of those of us who are growing older, and that is romance. Some of us are too tired after working all day at low-paying jobs (yes, we are either "overly-qualified" or "unfamiliar with current trends")to engage in any serious dating; but, even if we were, it seems that most decent folk are already married or in a committed relationship. Sure, we can attempt to notice whether or not the cute guy in the grocery store has a wedding band, but that is not a sure thing. Neither is it always accurate to assume that the pretty and talkative choir member at church is single.
Of course, most of us have married friends who are into match-making and try to help us find a mate. Even if their efforts are successful, and of course, there is ABSOLUTELY no guarantee, will that person have a healthy lifestyle or is that other person an exercise fanatic??? Not to mention, what the heck is "dating" and how does one do that??? And, what do we call each other: boyfriend and girlfriend? Interesting names for adult men and women! Oh, and if we marry at some point, our income from social security will be affected and our income as a couple will likely be LOWER than before we wed. So, some of us choose to co-habitate, even if it offends our spiritual beliefs, just to be able to survive.
One of the most frustrating questions of all is why were men created to have their hormones hyperactive in their adolescence only to start slowing down to the point of nearly sleep-walking through the fifties and sixties? And, women, just when we are free from child-bearing woes, menopause strikes and some of us would rather read Maya Angelou or Deepak Chopra because our testosterone count is nearly as high as the men's. Still others of us are FINALLY free of our childhood demons and ready to explore healthy sexual behavior with a spouse or partner, only to learn that some guys are no longer interested in sex at all.
My hope is that the next time you see a gray-headed couple, you will flash them a smile: they might really need one. And, though it is so politically incorrect, if you see someone significantly older than you are on a bus, train, tram, whatever, please at least offer them your seat. I know I have appreciated not having to stand for an hour in these days of dwindling energy. Open doors, offer seats in waiting rooms, allow an older person with few items to go ahead of you in line. Be merciful to the cranky or those who are having a bad day, because, as you have now learned, they face many, many challenges.
And, last, but definitely not least, work on being more respectful and kind to our elderly. They have enough on their plates without being ridiculed for being "Sissies." It is not easy to grow older or become elderly. Please remember that. But, most of all, remember this: Since "what goes 'round, comes 'round," whatever you do to seniors will come back to haunt you---BECAUSE ONE DAY YOU WILL BE ONE OF THOSE SENIORS, TOO, if you're lucky!
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St. Jude's Children's Hospital
The Ronald McDonald House Charities
The United Negro College Fund
Morris Dees & The Southern Poverty...