Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.
– Proverbs 23:22.
There was a time when folks didn’t look forward happily to being old. The golden years weren’t so guilded; being a senior citizen entitled you more or less to a miserable life of dementia, rheumatism, lumbago and the inability to walk.
If you were loved and adored, a relative or two stayed home with you, looking after your every need, often at great personal sacrifice. An extra gratification could be a visit from the parish priest and a private partaking of the Holy Sacrament.
If you were not so lucky, your destination was what they called then the almshouse. There, loneliness was often a companion; shame and low self-esteem your peers.
Today, growing old is an accomplishment pursued. It speaks to continued good health, deep self-satisfaction with mental and physical alertness, and enriching companionship with friends and family. Then there is the community affiliation which may be had with the supportive Barbados Association of Retired Persons (BARP).
Growing old can be a treat –– especially if we can rid the land of the exploiters, con artists, thieves and robbers who would prey on our unsuspecting and trusting senior citizens. Of course, no such criminality would take place of we were all of one mind in honouring our old.
We were therefore gladdened by last Sunday’s special acknowledgement of the most senior of our citizens by the Ministry of Social Care. It would have been most appreciated by these remarkable and exalted centenarians and 99-year-olds that the Government and people of Barbados were recognizing their part played in the development of this country –– by way of their own selfless work and sacrifice in ensuring furtherance of education of their progeny and by their support of an improved national health system which they themselves would come to benefit from.
Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett spoke on the behalf of all of us who are grateful for the guardianship of our forebears.
“We want you to know,” he told these honourable seniors (mostly mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and aunts) “that we love, appreciate and cherish you, and we value what you have done for us over the decades. Your contribution has been invaluable in helping us to maintain a civil society over the years.”
You shall rise before the grey headed and honour the presence of an old man [and old woman], and fear your God: I am the Lord.
– Leviticus 19:32.
Clearly, honouring the old man and old woman is more than the practice of great manners or adherence to grand etiquette; and more than our acknowledgement of gratitude for their goodness to us. Honouring our elders is a statute of God Almighty, as pronounced above.
This reverence can only translate into a better quality of life for our older folks and a deeper understanding by our youth of the path they too must ultimately take, if the wind blows right. This respect by our young will help also in the accommodation broadly of the elderly’s continued and expected contribution to society.
It has not been hidden by some organizations that retirement is a means of luring older people from the workforce, for a retired person is not necessarily one who can no longer work. And while it may be pragmatic to offer jobs to younger people, with families especially, care has to be taken that expertise and wisdom are not forfeited at the feet of youth and lesser cost.
And encouraging our nation to assess people by age rather than ability –– that may be passed on on the job –– is grossly shortsighted. For compulsorily retired, productive, aging people do not just lose their ability to function or to be exemplars.
In many a case the centenarians honoured last Sunday at the Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre will have been unacquainted with retirement as we know it. They would have worked until a ripe old age –– to the great benefit of their charges and their country. For this we are indeed grateful and identify with Minister Blackett’s sentiments.
“We see each and everyone of you who have reached this milestone as a blessing to all of us. Without you, your experiences, your hard work, discipline and knowledge, vision and love for this country our lives would certainly be much emptier.”
May we never forget the contributions and sacrifices made of our most senior citizens in their more youthful days; may we never cease to recognize their efforts publicly; and may we forever be grateful.
Without our elders none of us would be here. We owe them our lives, and our respect. Let us therefore lend them our ears, give them our hearts, and despise them not!