HONOURING OUR ELDERS
A couple of days ago, I opened the newspaper to read that an elderly couple living in an upper middle class locality had committed suicide. There was no ostensible reason for this; but the newspaper reported that they were desperately lonely and a point came when they felt that they could not endure it any longer. They had several children; their youngest lived with them, but the others, married and with families of their own, lived within a couple of hundred miles away from Delhi.
This, of course, was not the first suicide occurring among the elderly in Delhi and neither will it be the last. Although the government has tried to be responsive to the needs of the elderly in many ways- it has a helpline for access by senior citizens, increased policing, free medical aid, bus travel and what not. But all the help that government and civil society organisations can and do provide does not alleviate the pain of loneliness and abandonment that our senior citizens go through.
But this is not limited to Delhi -this could well be an urban thing. Last year, BBC had covered the story of Laxmibai Laxmidas Paleja in Mumbai, whose grandson and daughter-in-law were abusing her and speaks of Laxmi bai's hapless condition, ""I'm old. I couldn't defend myself. I was bleeding all over. I've got bruises all over my body. Then they just bundled me in a car and dumped me here at my daughter's house."
There has been a steady rise recently in reports of cases of elderly being abused, harassed and abandoned in our country and it does not need the BBC to tell us that Joint family systems, where three or more generations lived under one roof, were a strong support network for the elderly and they have more or less disappeared-at least in the cities.
There seems to be two views of age in today's society. The most prevalent view seems to be that of repulsion. Age is looked upon as an incurable disease. We fight against aging; we do not want to be reminded of what time can do to us. Thus, the aged elderly person is cast from society. They are made to feel useless, a burden to family, and often are cast off, avoided, except on rare occasions of birthdays and Christmas. Another view is that age is beautiful. That age demands respect and dignity. That the elderly are giants of the forest, wise, full of experience, worthy of our praise and adoration. This is the view the Bible holds on age.
Love And Respect
In Proverbs 23:22, Solomon exhorts his son to "listen to your father who begot you and do not despise your mother when she is old." In the story of Job, we find that Elihu, the younger of Job's friends, waited until the older men had spoken to Job. He also treated his communication to Job with admiration and respect, since Job was his elder. In Exodus 20:12 we find the commandment: "honour your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” In Mark 7:10-12, we find Jesus saying, "He who speaks evil of his father and mother, let him surely die." He goes on to say that the Pharisees had made void the law of God by their disgraceful treatment of the elderly.
Think of Caleb, who, at the age of 85, came to Joshua and took possession of the inheritance he had earned. Age demands an inheritance. The elderly have made their mark on life. They have performed well, and have confidence that their life was well spent in raising children, making the world a better place, and in training the next generation. They have a wealth of wisdom to share, experience to relate, expressions and advice on life to share. They await new experiences, and are getting prepared for the last experience of this life, and for a whole new world beyond death. They have earned our love and respect.
Age does not mean that someone is useless. We can think of Timothy as he learned from the Apostle Paul, an old warrior instructing the new recruit. Had Timothy now allowed Paul to share his life with him, the church might have been hurt, even destroyed, where Timothy was concerned.
Growing old is not a disease or a woe to humanity. It is our right. It is a privilege allowed by God. It is an opportunity to be useful and productive a little longer in the service of our family and of our God. Truly age is beautiful.