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OLD AGE:  TAKING CARE, OR TAKING ADVANTAGE, PART 2

America is getting older. In 2002, 21.5% of Americans were over 55 (approximately 62,204,000).  The average life expectancy for those born in 2001 is 77.2 and is projected to be 77.8 in 2005 and 78.5 in 2010.2 Barring Jesus' return, or an accident or disease, we will all one day face "old age." Our bodies are not constructed to last forever. Paul wrote that our "outward man" (bodies) are "perishing" (running down) even as the "inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). Although both life-expectancy and quality of life have increased drastically in industrialized countries this (past) century, the end of life can still be hard.

Thankfully, many of our loved ones will live longer. But this often presents the added challenge of dealing with aging relatives. Using the Golden Rule as our guide, let us treat others as we will want to be treated. How is that?

WE WILL WANT OTHERS TO RESPECT OUR THOUGHTS. Unfortunately, society has widely accepted a practice called "social dismissal" of the elderly, movingly illustrated in what Moore classifies as "one of the most touching letters I've ever read." The letter came from a nurse who works in a geriatric ward at Ashludie Hospital in Yorkshire, England. This nurse found the following poem in the belongings of an elderly patient who had passed away

What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
Are you thinking when you are looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply,
When you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try";
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe?
Who uninteresting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding the long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I rise at your bidding, as I eat at your will;
I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another.
A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home.
A woman of thirty my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more babies play at my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead.
I look at the future—I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love that I've known.
I'm an old woman now, and nature is cruel;
'Tis her jest to make old people look like a fool.
The body it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered 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, nurses—open and see,
Not a crabby old woman. Look closer at me!

Every part of the body is valuable to the church (1 Corinthians 12:14-18), including "perhaps especially" old members. -Though some may have been "put out to pasture,' we should retrieve them to be "teachers of good things" (Titus 2:1-4). We should not assume that older people are incapable of making decisions and understanding a modern world. Include them in discussions, invite their opinions, consider their experiences. They likely have some advice worth hearing (Job 12:12). If Rehoboam had respected his elders, Israel might not have split (1 Kings 12:6-13). The law said: "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary, and honour the face of the old man...." (Leviticus 19:32). Consider, too, that "Honor thy father and mother" (Ephesians 6:2) was not just written for young children!

WE WILL WANT PHYSICAL ASSISTANCE. We hope to be able to provide for ourselves all of our lives, but we may need physical help later in life. One comedian quipped, "Money can't buy health. And it's getting so it can't support sickness either." With the increasing costs of medication and hospitalization, we may find more truth than humor in that statement. Paul taught that these costs are to be provided by the family, as they are able: "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he bath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel...If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (1 Timothy 5:8, 16; cf. Mat-thew 15:1-9). This may include finances, seeing after physical work they cannot do, or providing health care.

In a day when some forsake the old when they needed them most, Solomon's words bear repeating: "Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old" (Proverbs 23:22).
As Premier Golda Meir of Israel said: "Seventy is not a sin."

Allen Webster
Glad Tidings of Good Things
Vol. 9/March 18, 2004, pg. 2