Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Old and Young

I recently listened to a speaker who explained how much we idealize youth. And we do! We give attention to youth, the beauty of youth, the exploration of youth and greatly disregard the elderly. Having worked so closely with the elderly in what used to be a retirement home (now a "nursing home"), the dignity is largely missing in these individuals and the respect for them is missing as well. Many times the elderly are brushed aside, and after I have heard my own grandmother tell me the same story about how much milk used to cost and where she had to move to when her husband was active in the army, I begin to lose focus on our conversations. (Funny enough, she moved to California - where you could see the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other - and I would think to myself that that sounded great! And moving must have been wonderful because California beautiful, and California is romanticized by people of my generation....why? Probably because it is infested with youth, fame, vanity and all the things we glorify and that captivate the media. I do believe California is indeed gorgeous and rich in natural beauty - but I bet my generation has a more O.C. vision in mind when they are California dreaming). Regardless, we focus so much attention on beauty and youth and the media thrives on this so much that we forget about the wisdom, experience and yes, beauty of the older generations. Now that I am a mother, I realize how many youth programs are available - there are endless things to get your child involved in and schools to put them in, if you are financially able, that is. But are there this many activities to engage our elderly citizens?
Today, I sat in a group discussion in a program I was trying out and the members of group spanned the ages with me being the youngest, and the oldest was in her 70s or more. I first sat down disappointed that there weren't more members in my age group - the group I went out of my way to attend so as to get to know people, maybe make friends and engage my mind - was half full of elderly women.
I listened to one of the older women speak clearly, wisely and I allowed my mind to slap myself in the face for thinking negatively of my experience because of the ages of these members. This women has probably had 40 years over me to reflect on her whole life, including the place that I am now in my little life. How could I discount the words of this woman?
She spoke of how she wanted to have another child after her first but had tremendous difficulty conceiving again. She acknowledged that she was grateful for her first but desperately wanted another one. Briefly she told a story of being in the doctors office upset that once again fertilization treatments were not successful for her, but hearing a women cry in the next room because she found out she was pregnant and didn't want the baby. The woman told this to the group with composure and calm and spoke about a subject that must have been painful and heart wrenching at the time. This tells me she has come to terms with this time of her life and is not angry about it anymore so that she is able to talk about it. Often our emotions get in the way of our ability to speak calmly about things. I should never discounted this woman or any other older person, because they have so much to give... and they may share it better than those of us with fresh, emotional scars!

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