I don’t wish for this post to sound like another “man, what is wrong with our society?” rant, but I really must ask that question from time to time. I suppose it is good to question things on a regular basis, anyway. I just find it sad how many times the answer to the above question is, “where do I begin to answer?”
This semester I am taking a class on the Classic Maya. In this class are four quite elderly men, whom my professor calls The Four Gentlemen. They are some of the most vocal students in this particular class, always asking questions in their fragile and quiet voices.
Today, like any other day, one of these gentlemen raised his hand and asked a question. A girl sitting next to me turned to me and gave me that look. You know, the one that says, “here we go again. Let’s mock.” We’ve all seen that look, and probably we’ve all given that look. I chose to pretend I didn’t see. Moments later, as this man’s question began to lengthen with more questions, she gave me that look again!
Granted, his question was slightly off topic, but depending on how you consider things, it was right on topic. Our questions often stem from our personal experience and observations juxtaposed with the flow of new information. From this perspective, it was easy for me to find a possible trail of how the man’s question was relevant, because with more age comes more experience, thus a deeper well from which to ask questions.
Truly, I think our society’s lack of respect for the elderly is disgusting. These are the people who have worked so hard to maintain or create our current lifestyle, that we for the most part take for granted. These people have survived the Great Depression, World War II, the Red Scare. They worked for years and years and have earned the right to ask all kinds of questions if they so desire. They deserve our respect, and yet we automatically shy away from them, or mock them with silent rolling of the eyes.
I will admit, that interacting with the elderly can be intimidating. The age gap is so wide at this point in my life, there seems to be an ingrained stigma that we cannot relate to each other. And though I very often find I do not relate at all to my society, it is inescapable that–to some degree at least–I am a product of my culture, just like everyone else. But while I feel slightly uncomfortable around the elderly, we are all human. We are all part of that cycle.
I am reminded of Ray Bradbury’s Farewell Summer, a sequel to Dandelion Wine, wherein Douglas and his friends instigate a war on the old folks of Green Town. The battle rages but in the end, Douglas and Mr. Quartermain–one of the prime targets–finally realize that they really aren’t that different. Neither can escape time. As Mr. Quartermain is, Douglas someday will be.
In our society, it is a permanence of that young kind of beauty that is more vital than the wisdom we gain. Fortunes are spent on plastic surgery, wrinkles are the bane of existence, retirement is synonymous with uselessness. And so, we have physical expectations that are too high, we work too long and too hard, and we don’t appreciate what a blessing it is to have an older generation among us. Instead we shuffle them off to retirement homes where they can be forgotten every day of the year except perhaps Christmas. After all they’ve done we treat them like a burden on our tax system. Sounds a little fascist, don’t you think?
Anyway, I don’t mean to sound patronizing. I am not perfect at dealing with our society’s elders. I’m not perfect at dealing with anybody. But I do tire of the blatant annoyance and disrespect.