Classical Greece had a name for it. Like other ancient cultures, they maintained a certain attitude toward those who had triumphed over lifetime trials. Those who arrived at that stage of life we call “senior citizen” received the kind of respect identified with wisdom and a closeness to God, “Gerdona” (Old Man) / “Gerondissa” (Old Woman).
God commanded the Hebrews, “Honor your father and your mother.” This was combined with a promise (rarely quoted), “. . . so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Ancient Rome associated old age with wisdom brought about by hard work, study and virtuous living. Asian societies followed the principles of Confucius, considering it a duty to care for aging members of their families, and Koreans even celebrated the 70th birthday – KohCui – (one who is now old and rare). Closer to home, Native Americans considered their “Elder” as the carrier of the tribe’s memory and life experiences.
We who grow older (I’ll admit, 70+ is growing old.) have reason to feel a certain level of satisfaction. In spite of aching bones, senior moments, and multiple night-time trips to the toilet, we can say, “…been there, done that.” We have experienced many of the quandaries that can wreak havoc on young lives. We’ve been in emergency rooms, either ourselves or sweating it out for a loved one, had life’s ups and downs, made friends and lost them, been angry and got over it. We’ve experienced the sadness of death and emotionally come back to life in the land of the living.
Sure, we tell our stories . . . sometimes too often, proclaim how it used to be, and reminisce over the loss of a $.10 cup of coffee. But, if you’re paying attention, you just might pick up a gem of wisdom – some thought or experience that can help you through your own burdensome times.
“Old” is relative. As children we all thought our thirty year old teacher was ancient. At thirty, we called fifty “over the hill”. On my own 50th birthday (once reconciled to the number) I began to form a new definition. “Old, after all, is a state of mind,” I told myself. “My body doesn’t realize that my brain is still thirty.” Then I think about my wife’s dear friend who, after surviving a broken neck at the age of eighty-four, wondered if she should retire. In her nineties at a nursing home, she once said, “Of course we should go out for lunch. I hurt a whether I’m here or at a restaurant.” Now, that’s a great attitude.
I DO need to remind myself not to use age as an excuse. A noted Canadian professor and broadcaster by the name of Dr. David Suzuki once spoke “On Becoming an Elder”. He told his audience, “You become an Elder because you have lived your life in a particular fashion giving service to your community. Your wider group will decide that you’ve reached a milestone and that you are an Elder.” So, while I may wish for respect, it is for me to prove, by my words and actions, that I deserve the ancient title, “ELDER”.