I’d like to post the closing thoughts from a paper I wrote a couple of years ago, on “Aging in Postmodern America.”
As I have been blessed with a ministry to bring “church” to a local nursing home that was neglected by local churches, I would like you to read some of my thoughts on the care we need to give the older members of society.
If anyone would like to read the whole paper, I can send you the pdf of it.
Over the centuries there has been a gradual shift in the response to the elderly in society. Yes, even in the time of ancient Israel people had to be reminded to care for the non-productive (widows, etc…). However, most people wanted to honor God by showing compassion to the elderly, and into the early twentieth century the aged parents were still thought of as valuable addition to the home, being allowed to live out their days in relative comfort. Children were not segregated from the old, and so they grew up understanding the decline of old age. But with a shift in the 1960’s to a postmodern, relativistic form of thinking, the elderly were seen as a burden and put aside in nursing homes or retirement communities. Now, with our striving for youth, beauty, and status, people do not wish to be reminded of their mortality by having to deal with aging. The church in today’s society could do much to begin to reverse this trend by starting ministries to the elderly and begin to bring forward the “radical” notion of compassion to the “least of these…” American society needs to re-emphasize the intrinsic value of all human life as made in the imago Dei, the image of God. The church could be the leader in re-introducing the very young to the very old and show the children and the adults that the elderly have great stories to tell and great contributions to make to succeeding generations. But are we willing to be compassionate listeners?
Finally, I would like to end with excerpts of a poem shared by Dr Vernon Grounds, found in the personal effects of an un-named woman who died in a home for the aged in England
What do you see, nurse, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me-
A crabbed old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit with far away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, “I do wish you’d try.”
…The worn body crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There now is a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my embittered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurse, open and see
Not a crabbed old woman,
Look closer- see me! (p 10)
An excerpt from the poem published in the book, Aging, Death, and the Quest for Immortality (2004).