The Stigma Of The Aged
This past weekend, I spent Saturday afternoon with some church-folk doing some much-needed cleaning and reorganizing in the nave.
After we finished and everyone had gone, an older woman and I sat for a minute to rest, and we struck up a conversation.
We talked about all the usual things- life, work, kids, and the weather, then she said,
"You know, there are so many new people coming to the church on Sundays, and they're all so much younger than I am. Whenever I'm up front with the microphone, I realize I am not the right demographic to grow this church. If I came to church and saw a Grammy up there every week. I’d find a new church!
I think the younger ones come partly for an energy and look that reflects who they are. I don't understand the world that so many of them live in - the cultural references they use, their interests, and some of their language. I haven’t totally outlived my usefulness, but I’m looking for some fresher faces to take over more of my up-front roles. It’s ok. I get it. I welcome it.”
I was glad she took the courage to speak up about this. It was refreshing. I sense these kinds of things a lot from people in her demographic (70+) but rarely do I hear them say it out loud.
What's interesting is that I always have the opposite experience when she says the things that she does from behind the microphone on Sundays. Of course, I can't speak for everyone, but I'm more than 30 years her younger, and when anyone in our church from her demographic says anything, I take the posture of a person starving for wisdom, grateful to hear from someone who's further along in life, experience, and learning than I am.
What's more is that I can't even keep count of the number of younger people who said that they came back to the church because of how warmly they were treated by this woman.
Hubert Humphrey, the 38th Vice President of The United States once said,
"The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children, and those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly."
I suppose that could also be said of society as a whole.
I went away from that conversation that day questioning my life and my behaviors. Could it be possible that the way(s) that I live, the words that I use, and the persona that I put out into the world are interpreted as inattentive to the elderly?
Whatever age you are (unless you are the oldest person in the world) there's someone in your life who was here before you were that has seen more than you've seen, experienced more than you've experienced, and knows more than you know.
You can decide to learn it all on your own over time, sure. Or you can learn it now from someone who's already been there. In fact, everything that you don't know about life, work, family, or anything else is probably passing you by each day, housed in an aging frame, sitting next to you on the bus or the train, working in the office down the hall, or even shaking your hand at church.
Wisdom, personified is right there in front of you, and you can access that wisdom by striking up a conversation and listening intently.
I'm thankful for my elders. They are the wisest people on the planet, and if I didn't have them in my life, I shudder to think where I'd be.