"A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture."
--Abraham Joshua Heschel
I recently lost my maternal grandfather. Or, as I liked to call him, Grumps.
Unfortunately, I am also soon to lose my paternal grandfather. Grandpa.
It's a weird time. It was hard to know what to say to Grumps in those last days, except to tell him that I loved him. And it's hard to know what to say to Grandpa now, except that I love him, and I'm so glad I'm near him. But he's in a lot of pain, he wakes up to a 90-year old body with useless lungs, weak limbs, and a 10-year absence of his wife, my grandmother, who was my first family death experience.
I've also been spending some time at a local retirement home. This is something that I always had a heart for. As a child, I visited the same home every week for at least three years to help my grandmother teach arts and crafts hour. I still remember their faces, names. Georgia, Rachel and Esther, and the blind lady who used to come in and play the piano, and Sharon, the young woman who had a terrible accident and was destined to spend the rest of her life in a convalescent home, among residents nearly sixty years her senior.
The place I visit now is top notch care with constant entertainment, stimulation, activities. Plush carpet and beautiful furniture adorn every room. A far cry from the home I visited as a kid, with hospital floors and the constant smell of soiled linens. Not that I minded that. You get used to it, and realize that your happy presence there is needed even more. It doesn't ever matter that they have no idea who you are. There is a desperation for attention in nursing homes, any visitors are appreciated. But even in this shi-shi place I go to now, with all the well-paid staff and weekly activities, the same loneliness is just under the surface.
We have separate homes for our elderly in this country. This itself is an anomaly to most of the world. And it's kind of a sad testament to our autonomous mindset and constant busyness. That's all I'll say. I don't want to offend. I just think we have pitiful excuses.
Like Rabbi Heschel said, it's easy to love children. Orphans, abused, abandoned. But the elderly... Well, I consider it a gift that my heart is drawn that way. Because it seems to be a rarity.
Thank you, Lord. Increase my love.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27