Opinion piece defending the value of senior citizens.
Mary Pat Strenger Loomis
When you think of national treasures, what comes to mind: the Grand Canyon, our national parks or, perhaps, tangible pieces of history like the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence?
Sadly, what rarely comes to mind are our senior citizens. Mental images associated with this population are generally gray heads playing bingo, riding buses, queuing for the hairdressers, waiting in wheelchairs, or shuffling along city streets.
Wake up and smell the green tea! There is a vast vibrant population of seasoned citizens rarely brought to the forefront of our media or our brain, for various ambiguous, Hollywood-decreed, spandex-enshrined reasons. I get so annoyed with a society that religiously pedestals youth. Why shower praises on people because of their late-model birth years? They had no control, no intellectual input, no creative design on the circumstances of their birth. We have this age adoration mind-set completely backwards.
Look at the other end of the timeline. People are living to be 80, 90 and 100. They are the ones to be honored, respected and applauded throughout the media. They conquered childhood diseases, survived the Depression, fought in wars, created financial juggernauts, navigated I-95, raised children and grandchildren, traveled to the moon, changed the face of the world and are still alive! Doesn’t this sound a bit more laudable than clear skin and flat abs?
I work with three 75-year old women who volunteer at my job. Well-groomed, disciplined and innovative, they contribute to service, efficiency and problem-solving. Retired business professionals continue to consult and teach; artists create and perform, athletes compete and coach. I think seniors can do anything their younger counterparts can do except give birth!
In comparison, Japan reveres, respects and recognizes the inherent value of their oldest citizens. In 1963 Japan established the National Law for the Welfare of Elders: “The elders shall be loved and respected as those who have for many years contributed toward the development of society.” They also founded September 15th as a national ‘Respect-for-the-Aged-Day’ holiday. Roughly 50% of the over 65 crowd live in their children’s home because their health and safety are prime concerns of their offspring.
Even in Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the world, there is a popular song called ‘Yiey, Ta’ whose lyrics translate to ‘happy grandparents make for a good society.’ Since Cambodia was engulfed in a civil war for nearly 20 years, preservation of culture has often been sidelined. The elders, long recognized as a rich endangered source of the traditional Cambodian culture, have embarked on a community project creating culture books as reference tools. Their lives, their history and their societal contributions are invaluable.
I would love to see our government and our society appreciate and care for our vintage gems. It should be reflected in their medical care, their housing requirements and their transportation needs. I would love to see ‘senior express lanes’ at the grocery stores, DMV, tollbooths, pharmacies and restaurants. I would love to see discounts given wherever their money is taken. But most of all, I would love to see junior citizens show genuine respect and courtesy to our predecessors, for the love and service and contributions they have given.
Maybe someday we will raise our standards of care and appreciation of the elderly to rival those of countries like Cambodia and Japan; after all, what good are treasures if they remain hidden?