Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Older is Wiser.

I've grown up around old people.

What I mean is, for as long as I can remember my mother has worked with the elderly, so I was always at adult day care centers or nursing homes where I was the youngest, by a long shot.  We got along well.  They were always friendly and easy to talk to.  Sometimes, when they didn't have all of their wits about them anymore, they could be scary because I didn't really understand what was going on, but for the most part, they were fascinating to me and I was equally fascinating to them.  I remember when I was a teenager, they really LOVED my dog when I brought her in.  They had so many questions.  The curiosity of the elderly is amazing.  You'd think after living for so long you'd be "over it" but I think maybe curiosity is a side effect of boredom.  Maybe the spark of excitement creates curiosity because it drags us away from the hum-drum of our daily lives.

So old people.

They've lived longer than us (I'll probably say this even when I'm older than "they" are).  By living longer, they have had (by default) more experience on this Earth than we have.  I think this is a fair enough reason to say they are wiser than us, if they have ever taken even a few moments to reflect on those extra years of experience...

This has often made me wonder why I was the only child at the elderly adult centers, except during class field trips, of course, but I don't think most kids go on field trips to nursing homes...I think I was kind of unique, because of my mom (thanks Mom).

When I lived in Costa Rica, I noticed something lightyears different from the US culture;  I realized I didn't know anyone's age.  In the US, we gage by what level of school or college someone is in.  Oftentimes, we only run with people of a certain age group, even though we socialize in office settings with whomever happens to be employed there.  In Costa Rica, though, I didn't know how old people were and they didn't know how old their friends were unless they had gone to school within a grade or two of one another.

Why don't they know their ages?  I surmise, after years of pondering, that it has to do with the way that the culture assimilates all of its age groups into all activities and the way that elders are respected as wise and worth respecting, the way we learned that Native Americans did with their elders (and some of us learned when growing up, but I dare not say that is a common lesson).  Costa Ricans are not only respectful of their elders, but they are integrated parts of their lives.  I don't mean to say that grandmothers are out at the clubs, but I'll tell you that 16 year olds routinely hang out with 45 or 50 year olds because everyone is an integral part of the society there.  People are constantly learning and befriending one another.  There is always something new to discover.  There is always advice to be had.  I think the elders are flattered by their younger counterparts and the underlings are excited to be grown up and part of the adult world.  This goes for all ages in some way.

This is why I'm not at all surprised by Dr. Karl Pillemer's interest not only in the elderly, but in connecting them with younger generations, and inspiring those generations to seek out their elders in return.  His means of doing this thus far have been to be the telephone cable that connects the two through writing.  He interviews and writes about it, and everyone else reads.  I think there is still a major disconnect, though I'm glad to see that the wisdom is at least being passed along in some way.

I wish it were easier to have a more integrated society instead of the agist gaps that we see in social groups.  Even bars and restaurants seem to cater to (or at least become home bases for) certain age ranges.  If you don't believe me, do a search online and you'll find that most reviews give age ranges of people who frequent them.

One of the best things I have seen recently was the documentary Andrew Jenks, Room 335 about a teen who seeks out an assisted living facility where he could live amongst seniors for a month.  Now, I initially imagined that a month wasn't enough time to really get an idea of anything...but after seeing their film, I'm convinced otherwise.  These young men did an excellent job of showing the bonds and friendship formed, the sub-culture of the senior communities, the cliques and the problems with their care systems.  It is currently available on Netflix and I highly recommend it, even if your only goal is a good laugh!  Andrew mentions at the beginning of the documentary that he is doing it for his own agenda...and I don't know that his agenda was every really explained.  I like to think it might be a type of real-life experiment with the goals of Dr. Pellimer in mind.

What if college dorms were actually shared with the elderly?  It's absurd, but this was an idea that was sparked by watching Jenks' experiment.  How do we integrate these important members into a society that is routinely removing them from our daily lives?  How do we connect with them on a more personal level as not only family but as friends and confidants?  How do we become ageless, like Costa Ricans?

After seeing the documentary and reading the article recently published about the findings of Dr. Pellimer, I can't help but wonder...perhaps an ageless society is a healthier one.  Perhaps when we live and interact with all stages of life, it makes us more whole in some way.  We become more present as we are able to better grasp the joy of the life we are given when new life enters the world, and the understanding of how fleeting it is, when we lose an old friend and guide.  Perhaps we get better at living in the present because we see the whole range of our lives being lived out by those we surround ourselves with.  When we are young, we will be included and made to feel older, and when we are old we will undoubtedly feel younger because of our interactions with the youthful excitement and energy around us, and we will all be more vibrant, interesting and wise for it.

Maybe older is wiser, but perhaps ageless is the wisest.

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