It was a mild autumn afternoon by the river, the water still and the light all toffee and caramel. We were ambling along the water’s edge when an elderly lady came walking her puppy – a silky terrier no larger than a rodent. The pup made instant friends with our two-year-old. There were giggles and face-licking, shrill yapping and shivers of excitement.
So it was that I got chatting to a complete stranger.
The elegant lady shared openly of her life, a story of immense sorrow and high joys. Her journey was intriguing – I was captivated. I must have stood there with this woman for 20 minutes, until she became self-conscious, realising she had interrupted our stroll. We exchanged names, shook hands and walked our separate ways. In all that she said, there was one sentence that resounded – because it wasn’t the first time I’d heard it.
“You disappear when you get old,” she said sadly.
My friend (let’s call her Liz), now in her 80s, said those very words no more than a week earlier.
“You fade into the background.”
“People don’t notice you.”
“They see right through you.”
We walked further along the water’s edge that day to a short jetty and leaned over the rail to watch the current where hundreds of jellyfish were pulsing and wriggling in the tide. Their translucent bodies passed beneath us like ghosts.
When Liz told me how it is when you get old, I was angry. That’s terrible, I said. How awful! But she just shrugged her shoulders and replied, “It’s just the way it is.” I don’t like the way it is. No person in society should feel invisible, like something only half here, moving with the tide.
The elderly people in our community are a rich living resource, a veritable treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge that can only be acquired over time. We should uphold them, revere them, honour them, seek their advice.
The Bible declares old age to be glorious.
“Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (Proverbs 16:31)
Job says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” (Job 12:12)
With each year we are adding invaluable experience, the kind that cannot be learnt at a university. We pull through hardship, we solve problems, we deepen relationships, we overcome vice, we move forward. We’re all heading there – to old age that is. So let’s open our eyes to the invisibles in our midst and the lifetime of treasure secreted in their heads and hearts. Let’s value a person’s input irrespective of age, engage with them, affirm our love and need for them.
I know I can do better at this.
After all, one day it may be me walking alone at the water’s edge, hungry for conversation.