Someday I want to figure out how we came to be a country where old people get warehoused until they die. I have been thinking about this over the years as I have navigated the care of my now 92 year old mother, but more recently, because of a comment made by a twelve year old girl in my class.
I made some off hand comment about having a senior moment that must have sounded disparaging to her. She raised her hand and stated emphatically that I should not make negative comments about being older. "In my culture, " she said proudly, " you are considered wise and worthy of respect."
That is not a belief that resounds throughout our American culture.
But there is something else that is dawning on me. Singer/songwriter Marty Axelrod, in his song, " 26 or 27", looks into the heart of all of us who are aging, which I believe includes everyone on the planet. He reflects on how though we are all aging and aged, in our hearts we cry out,"I'm about twenty six or twenty seven."
We have retirement homes across the nation filled with people in walkers and various ailments and topped with grey hair or none at all...but in their hearts, like in mine and like in yours, we are all at some younger age when our limbs were agile and our bodies as strong as our spirits and our dreams.
Sitting in those rockers and wheelchairs there are vast untapped resources that if unleashed could change every corner of the universe. There are artists and writers and thinkers and mathematicians with gifts that go unnoticed and unused. What is lacking is a means to mobilize their gifts.
In this world where creative minds have designed ways to gather world citizens for micro loans in struggling communities and ways for all of us to tap into each other's lives through social media, there ought to be a way for valuable elderly citizens of our society to contribute in meaningful ways towards making the world a better place. A wheelchair, feeble fingers, and brittle bones should not exclude any of us from feeling valuable and leaving a legacy of lives lived out for the common good.
Perhaps this is hitting me so strongly today because recently, The Pilgrims, a singing group that does benefit concerts to bring attention to a ministry that helps kids living on the streets of Seattle, did a holiday concert for fun at a retirement home. I watched as the residents shuffled or wheeled themselves into the dining hall for the concert. I watched their faces as the years fell away and smiles engulfed their faces as this men's chorus began to sing holiday favorites. I watched and imagined the lives each had lived, the stories contained in their hearts, the gifts that would remain unopened as they waited for their life on this earth to end.
One resident left during "Jingle Bells". As she slowly and painfully maneuvered her walker past me, her lips mouthed the words to the song and a beautiful smile crossed her face. She caught my eyes in a glance and did a little skip jump, her eyes glittering with sweet mischief. I heard the words of Marty's song in my head, " I am about 26 or 27..."
Someday, I will be retired. And I vow not to go gently into that good night. I vow to do all I can to be part of an army of silver haired warriors working to our last breaths to leave this world a better place than we found it. Ours was a generation that carried signs and marched in the streets and sang vigorously and passionately about the injustices of our times. And ours was a generation that watched in amazement as the world listened and walls of prejudice and inequality began to crumble. Let us now be the generation that leaves no gift unopened or unused. Let us be the generation that never stopped giving ourselves over to the work of healing the world. Let us be the generation who shines light and love and hope into every corner of a hurting world until our time on this earth is done. And then, and only then, let us be the generation that takes a well-deserved rest.
Marty Axelrod sings “26 or 27”