Ours is a throw-away society – no denying about it. Enmeshed into the clutches of ultra-consumerist culture, our contemporary milieu bears witness to the proliferation of “instant” products and gratification – instant noodles and coffee, instant banking, instant shopping, instant food delivery, instant home education, or perhaps too even instant sex, instant marriage (and divorce as well), and instant burial – all of which are commonly characterized as DISPOSABLE.
Can this be said too of our elderly populace, our grandparents, or our old frail parents? Thence, they can just be disregarded, despised, if not disposed to old age homes?
I’m still buoyed with the optimism that in our Filipino cultural ambience, unlike the western countries, we still hold high regard and respect for our elderly kin (or so is it? Perhaps yes, as can be generally, if not relatively, observed). For one, as an example, our endemic “mano po” gesture towards the elderly has not lost its flavor yet.
Likewise in Japan. It is interesting to observe that the Japanese do not segregate or discard the aging members of the family. Most grandparents get a life amidst family members – and families prefer to have them at home rather than sending them to care homes. It is normal for grandparents to spend time with grandchildren and impart some traditional wisdom to them. This staying together brings a sense of security to the grandparents – and, not surprisingly, the key to their longevity.
In our Philippine setting, it cannot be said that we’ve remained unscathed or invulnerable to the West’s creeping “nonchalant” stance towards the elderly, precipitated by the throw-away culture.
Poignant stories of old and sickly parents being left in old age homes, or of a frail grandfather being made to eat on a “wooden bowl” in a separate table, have become favorite readings on the social media. Fictional or not the stories are, they veritably mirror the disturbing reality of how far and low we have treated our elderly kin.
There’s the story of an old mom being left by her son in an old age home. When she became critically ill and was about to die, the son visited her and asked:
“Mom, what can I do for you?” Mom replied: “Please install fans in the old age home. Also put a fridge for the food, because many times I slept without food.” The son was surprised and asked: “Mom, while you were here you never complained, but now you have few hours left and you are telling all this. Why?” And finally, mom replied: “It’s OK, dear. I’ve managed with the heat, hunger and pain. But when your children will send you here, I am afraid you will not be able to manage.” END OF STORY 1.
Then, there’s also the story of a frail old grandfather who was living with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. Since grandpa – with his trembling hands and blurred eyesight – would often break a dish or spill the food, he was made to eat alone in a separate table and his food served in a wooden bowl.
But then, the story proceeded that the four-year-old grandson started making a wooden bowl too. When asked by his father what he was making, the boy answered: “I am making a little bowl for you and mama to eat your food when you grow old like grandpa.” END OF STORY 2.
Poignant. Aren’t these stories so?
Perhaps, from the two stories, we can plausibly draw one palpable lesson: Do not treat your old parents the way you don’t want to be treated by your children when you grow old. Or, as the two stories suggested, “Do not spurn or despise your frail parents – neither dispose them to old age home nor serve them separately with a wooden bowl – if you don’t want to be treated the same when you grow old.” Old parents, or the elderly, ought to be valued or loved, not despised.
In our throw-away culture, the old or elderly are rendered useless or meaningless. This sinking feeling of meaninglessness, among the elderly, understandably gets amplified and is likely to hasten their journey to their grave.
For me, the fundamental lesson or truth that we can derive – particularly from our two stories – is that the elderly (our grandparents or old parents) are God-given treasures, they are no less endowed with self-worth like anybody else, and they never cease in their usefulness.
Very relevant thus, Pope Francis, in his weekly General Audience at the Vatican last June 1 this year, stressed that the tenderness of the elderly highlights the tenderness of God. “Watch how a grandfather or a grandmother look at their grandchildren, how they embrace their grandchildren – that tenderness, free of any human distress, that has conquered the trials of life and is able to give love freely, the loving nearness of one person to others. This is what God is like, He knows how to embrace. And old age helps us understand this aspect of God who is tenderness,” Pope Francis said.
Pope Francis pointed out that the elderly, through their faith, wisdom and experience, can bear convincing witness to the presence of God’s kingdom in our midst and the authentic meaning of our earthly existence as a foretaste of that true “eternal youth” which awaits us in the new creation inaugurated by Christ and his Holy Spirit.
Lastly, contrary to the perspective of a throw-away culture, Pope Francis underscored that the elderly are messengers of the future, of tenderness and wisdom:
“Old age is a special time of separating the future from the illusion of a biological and robotic survival, especially because it opens us to the tenderness of God’s creative and generative womb. When we think of old age like this, we can say – why has this throw-away culture decided to throw out the elderly, considering them useless? The elderly are the messengers of the future, the elderly are the messengers of tenderness, the elderly are the messengers of the wisdom of lived experience. Let us move forward and watch the elderly.”