Honoring our elders

October 22, 2013

Ellen and I are on vacation this week. We stayed with a couple of dear friends in Quarryville, PA (south of Lancaster) for a few days but are now outside of Cambridge, Maryland. Some of you might remember that I stayed in Cambridge alone for 2 months when I went on sabbatical a year and a half ago. We are staying in the same house and I am sitting at the same desk where I started “ruminations” looking out over the water. (No Canada geese today??)

This morning Ellen and I drove to Hoopersville, MD… a little “end of the road” town with nothing to see but God’s amazing creation… water, beautiful land, and eagles soaring. (probably better to spend our time watching TV or playing video games) I think we saw 6 eagles today. And it’s true what they say… they taste like chicken. We probably drove for 45 minutes without seeing a grocery store, gas station, or any other sort of establishment other than a local, small “general store.” I think I saw Mr. Drucker there… if you don’t know who he is… ask Uncle Joe, Granny, Jed or Mr. Douglas. If that doesn’t help ask someone who was alive in the 60’s.

I love to ask questions so I stopped an elderly man before he entered a building and I explained that we were not from the area. “Where do you get groceries around here?” I asked him. He told me that he took a drive to the “City” to get groceries. The city happened to be Cambridge where we are staying about an hour from where he stood. He then went on to say that we was 87 years old and had lived in Hoopersville his whole life. I love to talk to elderly folks… the only problem is there are fewer and fewer around… but there are a whole lot of old folks who happened to be close to my age!!! What’s that all about?!?!?

Anyway, as we drove away I told Ellen that I could talk to him all day. Well actually, I could listen to him all day. Tragically, like so many folks, when I was young, I just didn’t pay attention to others and in particular I didn’t care to listen to the elderly. It’s only in recent years that I have discovered that EVERY ONE of them has a story to tell and most of them are amazing. They may not always think their stories are awesome, but I do. Most of us think our lives and our experiences are mundane and uninteresting but that is far from true. I want to hear about what it was like to live through the war years. I want to know about the first time someone ever heard a radio, or saw a television. I want to know where someone was when they heard about Pearl Harbor. Many years ago I spoke to an elderly man who remembered the first time he ever saw a plane fly over his head. He was a kid on his father’s farm in Mars, PA. It was back in the 1920’s and it was a cloth covered bi-plane. Even when he told me he still had the awe in his voice all those years later… I got to share just a tiny bit in his amazement. As a result of that experience he became a pilot himself.

Can I share a few things with you that I have learned over the years? I hope you don’t mind and that you take them seriously:

First, when your father/ mother/ grandfather grandmother begin to tell a story that you have heard a dozen times before… don’t disrespect them. Don’t roll your eyes and tell them that you have heard that story numerous times before. THEY ARE SHARING A PIECE OF THEIR LIVES!!! Can I be so bold as to say, “SHUT YOUR MOUTH AND LISTEN!” You might learn something. And you might just indicate to your elder loved one that you care about them. A day will come when you will long to hear them tell those stories again and they will be gone along with all their collected wisdom. When you are sitting listening to older folks tell their stories… just listen… please. It is often better if you ask questions and not share your own experiences. I have a little principle that I try to observe… when I walk away from someone I want to know more about them than they know about me. Not because I am hiding something but because I am interested in their lives and I want to be attentive to their “stories”.

Second, are you or is someone in your family documenting all of these stories and wisdom from the generations before you? Several years before my father died I sat with him and interviewed him on video tape. I began by simply asking him to tell me his very earliest memories and who he remembered in his extended family. It didn’t take any effort at all to fill a two hour tape. Tragically we only got to about the age of 19 for him before we stopped and I never got back to it again. There were difficult things that I needed to ask him that I want to know about and now I will never find out. Everyone has access to some sort of video recording device… DON’T WAIT!!! DO IT THIS WEEKEND!!!! Or do it and give it as a gift to your siblings! What a great Christmas gift for this year. Please, don’t wait. A day will come when you will wish you had that information straight from the mouth of the one who lived it. I need to tell you that I watched the video (now transferred to CD) I made of my father only once… after his death. It was heart wrenching… but I am so glad to have it. Someday it might mean something to my children or their children… Just as an aside he came back to me several times after we completed that first video to say “I was thinking about what I told you and I remembered…” and he would tell me more details of a story or tell me a whole different one that the conversation prompted. It was such a blessing to me!

Third, there are folks in our lives who are eager to tell their stories but don’t think that anyone really cares or is interested. You honor them by your interest in their lives.

Last, scripture tells us to honor the elderly in our world. Is there anything else that I need to say about that?   Well, I’ll only say this… the disrespect shown to the elderly in our culture is staggering.

Maybe none of this has anything to do with your life. If so, I’m sorry to waste your time. But if it does, do not miss the opportunity to love, honor, and record the life of someone that you will greatly miss one day. If it means you need to drive or even fly someplace… do it. You will not regret that decision but you may very well regret the decision not to do so.

Exodus 20: 12“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Elder in Greek or the New Testament is literally “older man” (presbyteros), and is used as a term of respect.

Elder in Hebrew or the Old Testament: An older person (usually the Hebrew word is zāqēn meaning “beard”), and thus a leader in a community. The elders were heads of households, representatives and leaders of tribes, and, at times, the most prominent men of a tribe.

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