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Growing Old in the USA

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While looking through my email today, I happened to notice an advertisement for a product that, if applied, would “reverse” the aging process to some extent by strengthening, firming, and smoothing the skin. It would remove baggy skin and dark circles under the eyes, erase “crows’ feet,” and so on. Whether that actually works or not is no doubt based on the person who uses it. But why?

What is this fascination for youth in this culture? In the “old days,” in our grandparents’ day, aging was accepted as a part of life. You’re young, then you grow up and have children, grow old, and die. If you’re fortunate, you will live to see your grand, and maybe even great-grandchildren, but it is not a given. Death is as much a part of life as birth. We grow old. Age “happens”; despite all our efforts to stop it, it happens. Hopefully age brings wisdom that we can pass on to our children and future generations, lessons learned through good times and bad, joy and sorrow.

It is a rule of this existence on earth that there is opposition in everything. Hot/cold, wet/dry, young/old, and so on. Admittedly, the “unknowns” of what is ahead in our lives can be troubling; but if we never grew old, how would we ever learn what we need to learn in life? How would we ever have anything of value to teach our children? How could we ever teach them to avoid the mistakes we made, either personally or on a much larger, global scale?

In this culture, youth is worshipped and age is to be avoided. So many elderly sit alone and lonely in nursing homes around this country with no one to visit them. Their children are too busy raising their children and working sometimes eighty-hour workweeks. The grandchildren are involved in school activities and sports, too busy to visit Grandma, if they even know her at all. This is not to say that everyone does this; there are many, I’m sure, who do take very good care of their elderly parents, including them in their lives as much as possible. But for those who are alone, and not by choice … These are the same elderly who, just a generation ago, would have grandchildren around their feet, listening to stories, being loved and respected by the entire family.

This is not just an ideal; pictures from my own ancestors show this. One of the most poignant pictures in my family album is of my pure Norwegian great-great-grandfather surrounded by his three grandchildren, one on either side and the youngest on his lap. What he was actually like in person, I do not know, but it puts a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. I like to imagine that there was more than enough love there to go around many times over. To even know, much less be in a picture with, my own grandfather is something I never got to experience. Those on either side of my family had long since gone on. I know, or like to believe that, were either of them alive now and young enough to enjoy life without too many infirmities, that I could not let any of my grandparents, on either side, be left sitting alone in the hallway of some nursing home, grateful for even the smallest amount of attention.

One of the greatest joys of my life are the times, twice a month, when I, along with my husband, have the honor of delivering Meals on Wheels to the elderly in our area. Two “teams,” different people to see each time. Some are more reserved; others, very open and loving. All of them positively delightful in their own ways. I guess I’ve “adopted” a couple of them as the grandmas I never knew. One is a spry, very classy lady of ninety-five—very possibly the best-dressed lady in town and, to me, the dearest. I could visit with her all day if given the chance. Fortunately for me, the feeling is mutual; the love I give is returned tenfold. My only “regret” is that we do not do it every week; it is a happy reality that there are too many volunteers to be able to do that, so my/our only chance to do it more often than we do is if another volunteer cancels. I would do it every day if given the chance!


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