There is an interesting story in this week’s Sports Illustrated.1 It seems that some con artist is going around to aging athletes who have Alzheimer’s posing as Dr. James Hartman. He claims to be purchasing memorabilia for a museum. He takes their trophies, game balls, jerseys, and leaves them with a rubber check. The article ends only half joking that the writer hopes this person is caught and hanged. Such abuse of the elderly gets our ire up,we want somebody to do something.

We should stop to consider. We might do, by neglect, what another does by fraud. At age twenty-six, Pat Moore performed a remarkable experiment. An industrial designer, Moore wanted a better understanding of senior adults, so for three years (1979-81) she frequently disguised herself as an eighty-five-year-old woman. She utilized a professional makeup artist and visited 116 cities throughout fourteen states and two Canadian provinces in her elderly persona. From her experience, Moore estimates that one of 25 senior adults is abused, with most victims being over 75. She was impressed with the compassion and care she received from senior adults when she was in character, but she received harsher treatment from younger generations.2

How do we apply the Golden Rule (“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” Matthew 7:12) to the older members of our families, communities, and churches? Perhaps the better question is, How will we want to be treated in our later years?

WE WILL WANT OTHERS TO TAKE TIME FOR OUR LONELINESS

Imagine being surrounded by the same four walls for twenty-four hours a day every day! Think what it must be like to say goodbye to many of your lifelong associates. Ann Landers once ran this thought provoking entry:

Dear Ann Landers: In the last decade I have witnessed an alarming disrespect for the elderly. In many cultures, old folks are venerated and valued, but not in America. I find this sad and frightening. A few years ago, you printed a column about grandfather’s birthday. I showed it to my grandchildren. They were visibly moved and, I might add, have been a lot more attentive to their grandparents since then. Will you please run it again? – St. Petersburg.

Dear St. Pete: With pleasure. Here it is.

It was grandfather’s birthday. He was 79. He got up early, showered, combed his hair and put on his Sunday best so he would look nice when they came.

He skipped his daily walk to the town café where he had coffee with his cronies. He wanted to be home when they came.

He put his porch chair on the sidewalk so he could get a better view of the street when they drove up to help celebrate his birthday.

At noon he got tired but decided to forgo his nap so he could be there when they came. Most of the rest of the afternoon he spent near the telephone so he could answer it when they called.

He has five married children, 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. One son and daughter live within ten miles of his place. They hadn’t visited him for a long time. But today was his birthday and they were sure to come.

At supper he sat on the porch waiting.

At 8:30 he went to his room to prepare for bed. Before retiring he left a note on the door, Be sure to wake me up when they come.

It was grandfather’s birthday. He was 79.

In our hustle and bustle world, it is hard to find time to sit with aged relatives and fellow Christians, and if we are not careful, we will neglect this duty – and corrupt our religion. James said, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Visit here means to see after the needs. Certainly one of these needs is conversation and discussion. John added, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. Let us use our days wisely” (Ephesians 5:16) and give one once in a while to let an elderly person know they are needed and wanted.

WE WILL WANT OTHERS TO HAVE PATIENCE WITH OUR INFIRMITIES

Most of us will better be able to identify with Solomon than Moses. Moses was an exception to the rule of human aging. At his death, his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated (Deuteronomy 34:7). Most of us will wear glasses; most of us would not be able to bench press at seventy what we could at twenty. Solomon, on the other hand, described the aging process with which most of us can identify: “In the day when the keeper of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders [teeth] cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows [eyes] be darkened, And the doors [ears] shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird [cannot sleep],afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail” (Ecclesiastes 12:3-5).

In an award-winning article entitled, A View From 80, Malcolm Cowley described what it was like to be old: “when it becomes an achievement to do thoughtfully, step by step, what you once did instinctively – when he can’t stand on one leg and has trouble pulling on his pants – when he spends more time looking for things than he spends using them after he has found them – when he listens hard to jokes and catches everything but the snapper.”3

 

What’s the application? Patience. Though the old man is only going forty miles per hour down the interstate, or grandma takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get to the car, or granddad must be told everything three times, let us add to our temperance, patience (2 Peter 1:6). To make sure an old person hears you, touch his arm and have him look at you as you speak. Speak clearly, hold up objects to which you refer, and give her clues to establish a context without sounding impatient or upset. As for vision, keep in mind that older people need better lighting and have trouble adapting to the dark. Night lights should be included in each room.

America is getting older. In 2002, 21.5% of Americans were over 55 (approximately 62,204,000).[4] The average life expectancy for those born in 2001 is 77.2 and is projected to be 77.8 in 2005 and 78.5 in 2010.[5] Barring Jesus’ return, or an accident or disease, we will all one day face old age. Our bodies are not constructed to last forever. Paul wrote that our outward man (bodies) are perishing[6] (running down) even as the inward man is renewed[7] day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). Although both life-expectancy and quality of life have increased drastically in industrialized countries this century, the end of life can still be hard.

Thankfully, many of our loved ones will live longer. But this often presents the added challenge of dealing with aging relatives. Using the Golden Rule as our guide, let us treat others as we will want to be treated. How is that?

WE WILL WANT OTHERS TO RESPECT OUR THOUGHTS

Unfortunately, society has widely accepted a practice called social dismissal of the elderly, movingly illustrated in what Moore classifies as one of the most touching letters I’ve ever read.[8] The letter came from a nurse who works in a geriatric ward at Ashludie Hospital in Yorkshire, England. This nurse found the following poem in the belongings of an elderly patient, who had passed away:

What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
Are you thinking when you are looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes

Who dribbles her food and makes no reply,
When you say in a loud voice, I do wish you’d try;
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe?

Who uninteresting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding the long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I rise at your bidding, as I eat at your will;
I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet.
A bride soon at twenty, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home.
A woman of thirty my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty once more babies play at my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead.
I look at the future – I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.

I’m an old woman now, and nature is cruel;
‘Tis her jest to make old people look like a fool.
The body it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart

But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again.

I think of the years all too few, gone too fast;
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses – open and see,
Not a crabby old woman. Look closer at me!

Every part of the body is valuable to the church (1 Corinthians 12:14-18), including – perhaps especially – old members. Though some may have been put out to pasture, we should retrieve them to be teachers of good things (Titus 2:1-4). We should not assume that older people are incapable of making decisions and understanding a modern world. Include them in discussions, invite their opinions, consider their experiences. They likely have some advice worth hearing (Job 12:12). If Rehoboam had respected his elders, Israel might not have split (1 Kings 12:6-13). The law said: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary, and honour the face of the old man” (Leviticus 19:32). Consider, too, that “Honor thy father and mother” (Ephesians 6:2) was not just written for young children!

WE WILL WANT PHYSICAL ASSISTANCE

We hope to be able to provide for ourselves all of our lives, but we may need physical help later in life. One comedian quipped, “Money can’t buy health. And it’s getting so it can’t support sickness either.” With the increasing costs of medication and hospitalization, we may find more truth than humor in that statement. Paul taught that these costs are to be provided by the family, as they are able: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel, If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed” (1 Timothy 5:8, 1 Timothy 5:16; cf. Matthew 15:1-9). This may include finances, seeing after physical work they cannot do, or providing health care.

In a day when some forsake the old when they needed them most, Solomon’s words bear repeating: “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22).

As Premier Golda Meir of Israel said: “Seventy is not a sin.”

Endnotes

[1] Late Hit from a Con Artist. Rick Reilly. P. 86. March 8, 2004.

[2] Disguised, Pat Moore, 1985, p. 165-167.

[3] Life, 1979

[4] U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports.

[5] Vital Statistics of the United States, U.S. National Center for Health Statistics

[6] The root word here (phtheiro) is from phthio (to pine or waste); and means to shrivel or wither, i.e. to spoil (by any process) or (gen.) to ruin, corrupt (self), defile, destroy.

[7] anakainoo, to restore.

[8] Disguised, Pat Moore, 1985, p. 165-167

 

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