Recently my mom, who is 84 years old, went grocery shopping and came out with two heavy bags worth. As she was struggling to carry them, a voice called out, “Hey Auntie, let me help you,” and a woman came out of a nearby shop to assist my mom in getting the food into the car. My mom told me, “That’s one of the things I love about living in Hawaii. I get special treatment because of my age.”
There is an ingrained care and honor for the elderly in the local culture of Hawaii, and “Auntie” is the title that people there use to call any woman, beloved relative or unknown stranger. It is a beautiful name that shows our collectiveness — that we belong to each other in the human family and are called to take care of one other.
This deep respect for the aged is the same in other cultures around the world, but a virtue that we are sadly losing in modern times.
Pope Francis says for a country to survive and thrive it needs two things: to honor it’s elderly and to nurture its youth. “The Church regards the elderly with affection, gratitude, and high esteem,” he said. “They are an essential part of the Christian community and of society: in particular they represent the roots and the memory of a people.”
Losing sight of this gift
Often in the mentality and pace of today’s world, we lose sight of the gift and treasure the elderly bring to our lives. Families of old used to be a mix of generations: the grandparents, parents and children all under the same roof, or at least in the same neighborhood, each bringing their gifts to the mix. Grandparents sharing wisdom and lavishing love on the young; the youth bringing their idealism, energy and hope for the future; and the parents as fulcrums on which it all rested and revolved.
How far we as a society have come from giving our elderly a revered place in our lives. Yes, they do things in a slower way. Maybe their minds and short-term memory slip. It can take great patience to listen to their repeated stories. But being with a “senior” helps slow us down, re-focus us, and see what is really important.
Pope Francis continued, “The elderly…show that even in the most difficult trials, we must never lose confidence in God and in a better future. They are like trees that continue to bear fruit: even under the weight of years.”
During the Advent season, when we are called to reflect and wait and be patient, I encourage you to spend some unhurried time with the older generation — to slow down, listen, and see what you learn. You can bring a bit of joy and company to them, and your life will be enriched too.