Benefiting from Association with Older Ones
TODAY a family that does not include at least one relative over sixty-five years of age is indeed an exceptional family. For there are now in America some 19,000,000—nearly 10 percent of the country’s population—that are aged sixty-five or over. In Britain the number of persons over sixty-five has passed the 8,000,000 mark—more than 10 percent of the population. Other nations show similar increases in the number of older persons.
So many millions of mankind can hardly be ignored. Yet this appears to be the trend today in a fast-moving world where greater stress is placed on youth and the advantages of being young. Seldom anymore are the aged invited to youthful gatherings. In fact, it takes considerable encouraging to get children and friends to correspond with the aged or to keep in touch with them by telephone. It was not always this way. Times have changed.
A man of eighty-two recalls the change in these words, as reported in the Newark Evening News: “When I was a youngster, having old folks around us was part of the pattern of life. My neighborhood was full of them . . . When I walked down the street one or two would be sitting on the stoop or the sidewalk in front of nearly every one of the old, red brick houses. Only a few lived alone, most of them with children and grandchildren. They talked, read, or relaxed; some had special hobbies. Each had a smile and a kind word for us as we went by. Alongside our home was Mrs. Burns, a large woman who invited us in every time she made a batch of wonderful yeast bread which she spread with fresh homemade chili sauce. . . . Old man Sherman had retired from drygoods . . . His daughter cared for him . . .
“We respected these old folks and looked up to them; didn’t play jokes or make fun of them behind their backs. They took good care of their children, and after the kids were out of their teens, they expected to take care of their parents in turn.
“Today the oldtimers sit alone in some dingy rented room or on a park bench, neglected, just waiting . . . They know that times have changed but find themselves disinherited from even a little of the harvest of love and regard they had hoped for from their children.”
A true tragedy of old age today is that growing numbers of them are loved less by their children and the youths around them. Few children today count it a privilege to care for their aging parents. However, many children of previous generations thought differently.
More Respect in Ancient Times
As shown in the Bible, the children of ancient Israel were commanded by God to honor their parents, and this proved beneficial to the children. (Ex. 20:12) Communities in which old people abounded were represented as highly favored. The marked respect with which aged persons were treated is seen in the injunction: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man, and you must be in fear of your God. I am Jehovah.” (Lev. 19:32) Respect for the aged was a command of God, a sacred duty. Even “the aged ones rose up, they stood” as the patriarch Job passed them in the streets. (Job 29:8) Respect for the aged was a beautiful thing then as it is now when shown to the deserving.
Even among some nations not governed by God’s law, respect for the aged was shown. Among the Egyptians, the young men rose before the aged and yielded to them the first place. The youth of Sparta did the same and were silent before older men. In Greece old men were treated with respect.
The aged were viewed as men of understanding and judgment. They were believed to be funded with a wealth of wisdom and recollection. Old men served as counselors to kings, and people generally responded warmly to their knowledge and understanding. When Jeroboam and all Israel pleaded with Rehoboam about lifting their heavy burdens, the Bible says: “King Rehoboam began to take counsel with the older men who had continued attending upon Solomon his father.” However, Rehoboam “left the counsel of the older men with which they had advised him, and he began to take counsel with the young men that had grown up with him.” (1 Ki. 12:4-19) The result was a revolt in Israel and an irreparable split in the twelve-tribe kingdom.
In various regions throughout the earth older persons are still held in high esteem. But in the Western world, generally speaking, their influence has greatly diminished. Notwithstanding, older persons still have much to offer and their association can prove invaluable if one but listens to them and learns.
This does not mean, however, that every elderly person constantly speaks words of wisdom or encouragement. Many of them have had much experience, and some of them have backgrounds that may be very rich indeed. But it must be remembered, too, that many of the problems and troubles in the world can be traced to the workings of gray heads. So selectivity is needed. When older ones have followed God’s way of righteousness, then there are likely to be many benefits from associating with them. The Bible principle holds true: “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.” (Prov. 16:31) A gray head that has been molded by God’s Word is a crown of beauty, and with such, one finds pleasure and benefit.
Many Assets of Older Ones
So often youths fear that older persons represent a financial burden, more than they care to bear. Therefore, they shy away from them. The fact is that you are from two to five times more likely to inherit money or property from your aged parents and other elderly relatives than to have to pay their bills!
True, old age has its peculiar aches and pains, but so does youth. Think of the diseases associated with childhood. When age is not plagued by too many ills, regrets and fears, it may, in fact, be a gracious period of tranquillity, with treasured memories locked in a mind that is at peace. In this topsy-turvy world, what youth would not enjoy a fraction of that tranquillity for himself? He can have it if he lingers awhile with the aged who are at peace.
Older people often offer much in being just what they are—older people. They have a warmth and affection that children love. That is why grandparents make excellent baby-sitters, especially when they are not unfairly taken advantage of. They make fine teachers as well. A little girl of five used to spend her time with her grandmother. Granny would tell her about God and the blessings of his kingdom. The child grew up determined to become a missionary for the Watch Tower Society, which goal she eventually realized.
Most of us remember with affection the old people we knew, perhaps our own grandparents. A young man remembered his grandmother for the wonderfully fragrant, crusty, brown loaves of bread she made. ‘Grandma would take a loaf hot from the oven, break it open and place a large slice of butter in the center,’ he reminisced with delight. ‘Then, when the butter was all melted and had run through the loaf, she gave us a large slice. Every crumb was devoured. Freshly made bread was something we were not allowed to eat at home, but grandma always saw to it that we got some.’ The young man long remembered his grandmother and her good-smelling kitchen.
The simple fact that older people usually are not hurried is a benefit not to be ignored. Often in youth all that is desired is a listening ear, perhaps a little sympathy and understanding. Older people often have the time and patience for such things. One elderly grandmother said: “I have been surprised and delighted to discover how many of the neighbors’ children drop in just to talk for a few minutes. They leave their busy play to come in to tell me something interesting or to speak their mind. I have only to listen, for they seem to desire only a sympathetic ear. They cannot know what joy they bring to one whose children and grandchildren are far away, but perhaps they feel something of the love they evoke.”
Not all things that older people do, need be great for them to have an effect. Their occasional batches of cookies are long remembered. What young mother has not appreciated some help in mending socks? Or when sickness or exhaustion strikes, who is there better to turn to for help than grandmother or grandfather?
Often it may be only a word or a phrase from an older person that can make one feel secure and encourage one toward doing good. An elderly woman tells about her childhood days. She had known many older folks, but she especially recalls an old lady who was placid, gentle and kind: “I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday taking her hand, looking into her eyes, seeing her smile at me and hearing her say, ‘Bless you, my child.’ Even her name I remember.” That simple touch with the aged, she says, “made me want to be good.”
Seek Out Association with Older Ones
No doubt, association with older ones has been a much-neglected area in modern life, with a serious loss in love and blessings to old and young alike. Why not do something about it? Why not encourage the aged to stop by for a visit from time to time and enjoy their company? Invite them over for dinner, for which they will be most grateful, and it will be rewarding to you at the same time. Or when preparing a party or a get-together, why not include in your list some older ones? When in large groups of people, older persons have a tendency to withdraw to themselves. Why not seek out their association and make them a part of the festivities? Be with them and make them a part of your life. Such kindness on your part will help to keep older persons from contracting the disease of loneliness and self-pity.
Of course, there are things to remember when visiting with older people. First, allow yourself reasonable time for a constructive visit. Too often younger persons rush in with words of apology: “I’m sorry I can stay but a minute.” Try not to feel rushed. It is well, too, to have in mind interesting and important subjects you want to bring up in your conversation. Have a point that you want to make. And try to leave them with a date when they may expect you back or hear from you in the reasonably near future. This gives them something for which to look forward.
Also it is a fine thing to bring something along that will serve as a conversation piece. When visiting, you might bring a letter from one of the family and read it aloud. Perhaps you have read a book or a magazine that has sparked your interest. You might share some interesting features that you enjoyed. Emphasize the points that impressed you. Thus by helping them you will be helping yourself to remember things of interest to you.
Old people especially like houseplants or flowers. These make wonderful gifts if you are thinking about bringing something along. If you have knitted something for them, such personal things are specially cherished. If you want to give money, put it in an envelope and perhaps suggest how you want them to spend it. Photo albums of family members, foodstuffs, some favorite dish, delight the older ones.
Watch out for fatigue and discouragement. Older ones do not have the strength of youth. Minimize their mistakes. Keep your conversation positive, not critical or carping. Admire their appearance if they give attention to themselves. If they care for their possessions and property, notice it and do not be afraid to compliment them for their interests. When old folks speak, listen to them. You may learn something. Older persons have learned to cope with much pain and suffering. They may be a help to you by showing you how to avoid needless suffering and pitfalls.
As the ancient Jews were under obligation to honor their fathers and mothers, so today Christians are under no less an obligation. The apostle Paul advised Timothy: “Do not severely criticize an older man. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers.”—1 Tim. 5:1, 2.
We can show our concern by visiting them and making them a part of our life. We can greet them when opportunity affords and sincerely demonstrate that we are pleased to have them in our midst. If distance prevents us from seeing them in person as often as we would like, there is always the telephone or we can reach them by mail. The sound of your voice or reading a letter from you about your life and the thought that you cared enough to remember are loving rewards to the aged. These things cost us so little, but they mean so very much.
For many, the time of old age may be like the late afternoon of a summer’s day, when the shadows have grown long but the light still lingers, and there are still bird songs in the treetops and the twilight is peace. In association with such older ones we often learn what the vital issues of life are. They, like the earth, may be filled with treasures, unknown treasures still to be discovered and enjoyed. When young folks seek their company it is a kindness, and they themselves are enriched with blessings that only the older ones can give.
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Older persons often have a warmth and affection that children love