I remember a time when being old was honorable. Old people were respected. Others would get up from their seat on a bus or train to give them a place to sit. No one interrupted them when they spoke. There was honor and rituals of recognition of their worthiness as the older generation. Old people were the Elders, the wise.
When I was child, only seventy years ago, I used to kiss my grandfather's hand and he would bless me, putting his hand over my head. At the dining table he had his chair that no one else would sit in. It was his reserved seat. When he took a nap in the afternoon, everyone would walk on tiptoes and whisper not to wake him up.
Being old meant being wise and knowledgeable. The elder made the rules of the house, and since being old was so respected, there was no need to try to hide your age by dressing like a young man or woman.
Children used to pride themselves in the way they treat their parents at home. Grandparents were not a burden, they were an asset. They helped around the house and conveyed family traditions and stories to the grandchildren. There was continuity that provided stability and nourished mental health. But this is all changing.
Being old is no longer something to be proud of. On the contrary, old people are seen as stupid. They forget things, perhaps losing their acuity to the creep of Alzheimer's. They do not shave evenly, have age spots on their skin, and can't walk well. They do not know how to operate the computer, the TV, or even drive well. People shy away from them. The respect, the honor, and the recognition are all gone.
The elders used to live with their children and enjoy their grandchildren every day. Rather than being visited once in a blue moon, they were part of the family. Now the older generation is discarded as a useless burden, sent to an old age home to wait for death, cared for by people they do not know. It is not love or a sense of obligation that drives those caregivers; it is a paid service.
There is a Jewish prayer that says "do not discard of me at my old age..."
I took care of you when you were young and helpless. Be with me at my old age when I am feeble and weak and in need of love more than ever.
In the Western world this is only a prayer.
Retirement homes are ubiquitous, and expensive. Why do older people spend so much money on a retirement home? What choice do they have? Who else will take care of them? Being old means having the problems that come with aging, and someone needs to help. Where are the children? Scattered around the nation or the world. Maybe they call sometimes -- on a birthday, perhaps.
Some old people refuse to leave much, if any, of their assets as an inheritance to their children. For them children were not an investment, they were an operating expense.
At the Passover Seder dinner, as my children and grandchildren were seated around the table, singing and laughing, I realized how lucky I am. I have the respect and the love I cherish so much. They told me that there is no way they would let me go to a retirement home. They are for me and with me until my last breath. I am blessed.
What is my biggest achievement in life? Not my books. Not my balance sheet. It is my loving family. It should not be taken for granted.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes