I am frequently required to suppress the urge to hug complete strangers. Strangers that are of the elderly variety that is. Out of respect I usually refrain – respect coupled with the uncertainty of the stability of their heart and its ability to withstand surprise hugs.
It’s the old women who call me sweetheart in grocery stores. It’s the old men teasing each other in line at Lowes. The grumpier they appear, the more I want to hug them. But never has it taken such restraint as this morning. I made a quick stop at Starbucks while running errands for work. As I walked swiftly towards the door my path was impeded by a gentleman leaning heavily on his tennis ball footed walker. He glanced over his should at me, just as I thought about attempting to run around him and open the door for him. Eighty something years of experience, allowed him to beat me to it. He set his walker aside, and in one or two shuffling steps his stiff arthritic hands were opening the door for me. He step back and flashed me a cockeyed grin with a quiet “Good Morning.” I thanked him, a smile splitting my face in two. Genuine delight bubbled in my chest, choking my voice and misting my eyes. I ached to hug this precious man who set his walker aside to open a door for me. How exceedingly inconvenient for him to muscle his walker out of the way, how risky for him to take unsupported steps, how hard for him to pull the heavy door open – but he did. Regardless of the inconvenience, he remained considerate, even chivalrous. Have we returned the favor?
His monumentally simple act of kindness left a lingering impression on my heart. For as much as I enjoy the elderly, my hurt for their loneliness, their lack of purpose, their feelings of being a burden, is tenfold my joy. Why do we allow their depths of wisdom, their heights of experience go unappreciated?
According to a study done in California from 2002 – 2008 over 43% of elderly admitted to feeling lonely and left out. Their loneliness isn’t just causing an ache in their hearts. Of those who said they were lonely, 24% reported declines in their ability to perform their daily activities. While only 12% of those free of loneliness reported declines. Those who feel they have a purpose, those not made to feel like a burden are living longer, fuller lives. Our elderly are supposed to be in our homes, surrounded by earnest ears, loving hands, and children to restore their youthfulness.Approximately 1.6 million elderly are in nursing homes in the United States. When they become inconvenient we pass them off to be put on an assembly line to their grave. We argue they are being well taken care of in a nursing home – not the case when elderly abuse is occurring in 1 out of 3 nursing homes according to recent congressional report. We’re not protecting them physically or mentally.
Abraham J. Heschel said “A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.” Our culture takes pride in its
progressive nature. According to C.S Lewis – if you are on the wrong road, the most progressive man isn’t the one who continues but the man who turns back the quickest. We are on the wrong road. Let’s turn around and reinstate the value of our elderly.
And I’ll try to refrain from hugging them all.