“That’s the effect of living backwards. It always makes one a little giddy at first but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.” – The White Queen, Through the Looking Glass
We live in a forward-looking society. We anticipate the arrival of each new technological gismo, the next new and exciting movie, the newest version of XBox or Playstation. We can’t wait for the next development that will make our lives more convenient and more fun. We plan for the future: we save money, we apply for college, we make wedding plans, we decorate a baby’s room.
Today I spent some time looking backwards. I visited with some family members after my grandmother’s funeral. The majority of the people there were retired (seems like a nice way to say old). Two of my mom’s cousins who I hadn’t seen in years, one in his late 60s and the other in his early 70s, were there. One of them told me how it wasn’t too long ago when his generation was the young people and everyone else was old. “Now they’re all gone,” he said, “and I’m one of the old ones.” He told me that he doesn’t get out much anymore due to losing some of his toes to diabetes. “I go to the doctor and pharmacy, and that’s about it!” he joked.
But I know it was not really a joke. Getting old is hard on people. Losing independence is a blow to the heart. (Not that I know personally, but from what I’ve observed.) It is really sad that our society places very little value on the elderly. In many other countries, they are revered, taken care of by family, and greatly loved. Here, so many end up alone and sad.
Yet these people are our past, our heritage. They gave us life; they gave us stories to tell. They loved, they struggled, they believed, they survived, they prospered. They left not only bloodlines, but lifelines spun together with each experience.
My challenge to myself and to you is this: First – Love the elderly. Call your grandparent or great-grandparent soon and tell them how much they mean to you. Visit a nursing home. Make them feel special, valuable. Second – tell their stories. Learn about your ancestors. Tape record your great aunt talking about her childhood. And keep telling those stories from the past that have shaped our own lives.
Be backwards-looking for a little while.