When we grow old, many people believe, it’s pretty much over - glamour disappears, our physical strength declines, our minds weaken, finding a mate seems futile and various parts of our body begin to fall apart. We’ve conditioned ourselves that the process of aging is the process of decay. A dreadful prospect since that’s the future for all of us. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be relegated to a human junk heap somewhere in another decade. Still, that’s the mindset most Americans have today.
I have a totally different philosophy. I happen to adore old people. Old people and very young children. Both are incredibly honest; they don’t care what others think and often say whatever’s on their mind. I find that refreshing, frankly. These extremes in age are the most fascinating, entertaining and wise. With babies, their wisdom comes from the intuition they brought with them – that hasn’t been stifled yet. They love all other babies, small animals and select people – they make really smart choices there, if you notice. With elders, their wisdom is a learned skill, that can only be achieved over time. I adore both groups; it’s the people in the middle I have a problem with.
So, for the purpose of this blog, we’ll focus on the aging population, and how Americans could learn to treat them better. They are, by far, my favorites. Although I adore babies, I’d much prefer to spend extended amounts of time with the elderly. Perhaps evident by the time I’ve spent in my life being drawn to much older women and the budding friendships that ensued – all were well into their 90’s.
One such woman was my Aunt Minnie – who faced dementia in her later years,
but Aunt Minnie was still a delight. Another was my former mother-in-law, Betty Cowen, who I reconnected with - even after I divorced her son. She eventually passed but was classy and a bit of a Pollyanna throughout her entire life; it was charming to experience.
Other older women who greatly influenced me or in whom I found inspiration were another former mother-in-law and of course, my biological mother, Sally Aslakson, whom I met later in life. She was an example in strength, being capable and being a lifelong leader – even though she lived in a very small town in Minnesota. My grandmother Brandy, an immigrant Polish woman who called me “her little chicken” and finally, Gladys Taylor McGarey, MD, who today is still living and over 100. She’s writing her 8th book and still speaks to groups. She’s inspirational to everyone.
I have learned much from each of these women – rarely through dialogue but through observing, listening and loving them. Perhaps it’s because I recognized their wisdom and respected them - even if they weren’t particularly book-smart. The great thing about seniors as they age; their authenticity is revealed, and that in itself is refreshing to be around. No false pretenses, no need to prove anything but instead, a grateful soul who knows how to appreciate when they’re loved – and when they flash a smile, it speaks volumes.
Our society has it all wrong and seems to forget people on both ends of life’s journey. With the aging, we warehouse and ignore them; they end up being socially isolated. What a loss. We should, instead, try to include them more into the family unit – in a meaningful way. Here are a few examples of how other civilizations and cultures revere these treasures. You’ll also find those societies have fewer suicide attempts, less depression and addiction as well as other curses to our population that we too readily accept.
The Chinese, for example, not the Communist Chinese version of the population - with their horrific mandates that regulate family size and gender preference – but, rather, the enlightened Chinese and Chinese American families who brought the best of their ancient cultures into their homes.
The Greeks, perhaps the greatest philosophers in ancient civilizations – have always considered old age something to be honored and celebrated. Our Native Americans, who pass down knowledge with storytelling and the healing arts through apprenticeships – all originating with their elders. The very savvy Eastern Indians who are brilliant in the field of technology live a lifestyle that elevates their aging population so elders remain the head of their families for as long as they live. Ancient Rome, who considered those of greater years a precious resource, and finally Koreans, perhaps influenced by their Confucianism roots, also honor those in advanced years – with big celebrations that grow in size the older they get! I could probably continue but you get the idea.
Then, there’s us - writing off our senior citizens to eventual dementia or Alzheimer’s; fighting among our siblings to see who draws the short straw in taking care of the parents or grandparents; making the perfunctory phone call or text at Mother’s Day, Birthday and Holidays - especially when we’re lucky enough to live out of town, and only staying close if the family will is sizeable enough and we’re still included.
What I’d like to see, instead, is for western civilization to wake up and realize that the way life progresses is perfect! So, instead of struggling our entire lives to find our purpose, reset our moral compass, grapple for a stabilizing force to guide us and fight periodic and situational depression because we’ve lost control of something important to us – let’s consider that we have a touchpoint of wisdom in our lives.
This is fact: once a person is old enough to reflect - they become wise enough to understand. Not before.
We mistake being smart or having knowledge on a subject for being wise. Those gifts are totally different. As the very popular saying goes: smart knows that tomato is a fruit but wisdom keeps us from adding it to a fruit salad.
Only through life and experience does one gain wisdom. Our elders may not be smarter than us, but they sure as the devil are wiser. Only with the wisdom they possess does everything in life finally become clear. It’s that clarity we all seek and it’s that clarity that brings total peace. Most of them now have it and are content.
Anyway, when we need clarity, when we need to regain perspective, when we could stand a gentle smile or a nod of approval – run, don’t walk, to the people in our lives who truly know. They don’t have to be a relative – they can be a neighbor or friend. You can tell who they are by the age on their face, the instant gratitude when they see a visitor and the smile you’ll receive simply by caring enough to ask them a few questions.
Our seniors are the one resource America has never ravaged. Instead, it’s the one resource it has ignored. Let’s help change that.