Growing old in a society that idolizes youth and is crazy about aging cover-ups can make one feel depressed. Why not? Old age comes with some losses: loss of employment; loss of physical strength and health; loss of loved ones and friends; and inevitably, the loss of that feeling – call that illusion, if you may – of invincibility. Ha, ha, it’s a good thing I drink four cups of coffee every day. According to a study by Michel Lucas, Ph.D. (from the Harvard School of Public Health) and colleagues, among women consuming four cups or more per day the relative risk of depression is 20 percent less. But there’s a rider to the study. It says it “cannot prove that caffeine or caffeinated coffee reduces the risk of depression but only suggests the possibility of such a protective effect.”
I think only young people look forward to getting older. Children talk, act and cry like adults. Adolescents put on heavy makeup and wear high heels in an attempt to look like grown-ups. The rest of us, meaning, those who have reached the age of “full maturation,” wish we could stop time. But we have no power over the aging process as it sneaks into our body system and finally overwhelms us. We can spend a fortune on hair implants and Belo essentials, but these products can neither change the number of years we have stayed here on earth nor alter our birth records. In other words, we have no power to stop the clock.
What we do have, though, is the power to choose how we respond to our own aging. And we can choose either of two ways – one, by being fearful of, frustrated with, resentful toward and angry at the inexorable rising of our age; or, by just reaping all the benefits of aging with dignity – that is to continue to live and learn, to give and teach, and to help and bless this world. Old age bestows a vast array of blessings: the freedom of life without work, the joys of having or being with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the privilege of being the “elder” in the family, a perspective on life that can only be gained through the years, the awareness of human frailty, the link to the past, the wisdom that comes with age.
I once joined a senior citizens’ association in the hope that I could find fellowship and share bits of wisdom with like-minded folks. But to my dismay, there was too much politicking and intrigues going on out there between and among the group leaders. It’s a serious problem when the leaders you look up to are quarreling among themselves. As Michael Douglas stated in the movie, “The American President,” “We have serious problems and we need serious people to solve those problems.”
I was taught by missionary sisters from the United States to cultivate personal excellence and ambition, but not to be bothered by small-minded rivalries. Work that seeks to serve others depends a great deal on the quality of the leadership.
When I was a young mom, I recall I always told my then teenage daughters to be courteous and pay attention to their lola every time she talked. Whenever they came to me to complain about their lola being too strict, I would say: “Take the time to get to know your lola and all senior citizens, for that matter. It’s well worth it, for whether it’s about biblical wisdom, marriage and family, ways to ‘stretch a peso,’ or pretty much anything else, grandparents and other older people can offer great insights.”
After coming to terms with the death of my mother, I realized that life is short. We bring nothing to this world and will take nothing from it when we leave. The key and fundamental question we should ask ourselves is: What do I leave behind to the world and the people? My answer: words of wisdom. Therefore I teach and I write. Indeed, we are creating the future right now, with everything we do and say.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships between older people and younger people. You see, a women’s group I’m involved in planned a night of hymn singing and testimonies that took place Friday night.
When we got together, I was pleasantly surprised to see people of all ages. There were children, college students, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all singing together. It was wonderful. Testimonies were given, words from some of the older hymns were explained, and what a great time we all had!
As I left, I reflected on what a treasure trove of wisdom our senior citizens are.
When I was in college, I had to write a term paper on the economy of the times when people, especially the urban poor, were lining up for rice, sugar and cooking oil rationed and sold from government trucks at low prices. I interviewed grandparents and old folks in the neighborhood, and those interviews made a lasting impression on me. I learned that they had happy memories of their childhood days, despite not their having any money, and that impacted a lot on how I live my life today.
I miss my grandparents greatly. To young people, here’s a bit of advice: Take advantage of the time you have with older friends and relatives. Listen to their wisdom. Too often it’s easy for the youth to rebel and insist on doing things their own way. It’s a natural part of life to assert independence. But be flexible enough to learn from those who have lived life before you. They know a thing or two.
So today as you go about your day, as you go to church, be sure to express your appreciation of those who have walked through life before you. Sit down, take some time to talk with them. You might be pleasantly surprised at how much they understand life and how much wisdom you can glean from them.
(L. T. Guilas, 63, used to work as a publications assistant at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the Western Pacific. She is now doing some freelance writing on the side – as the feel and the need arise.)