It is true that getting older doesn’t necessarily make you wiser. I must admit, though, that not becoming wiser as you age must take very active resistance to learning. In other words, it is more natural to gain wisdom than to not. It would seem that you have to put blinders on the rear-view mirror of your life and silence the voice of your past to avoid gaining wisdom. Certainly, a healthy conversation could take place about my perspective. My musings on aging, though, are not my destination. They are simply the jumping off points. Two matters lie just below the surface of all my thoughts about aging. The first is about being productive and purposeful as I age. The second is about the way I hope to live in community. They are both very connected. One of my clearest images of what exists in a healthy community is active and engaged old people, and I am intentional about using the word “old.”
The elderly are a sign that people can enjoy some level of health that allows them to age. Several other signs are evident. Community safety is at a certain level. History and heritage are preserved and passed on, creating the opportunity to learn from our past and build a better future. Role modeling is taking place well beyond the development years. We often value the role of mentors in the lives of teens and young adults without acknowledging that life is full of other adult transitions where role models are needed.
Even more so, age diversity creates a vibrant way to see the different uses of our energies across the life stages we experience. We see the resilience of the things that we believe are important in our youth and how they bear themselves out against the backdrop of time. We see the power of sustained energy over time and the differences that can be made by diligence and fortitude. We also see the consequences of bad decisions and foolish actions. We see the redeemed and unredeemed realities of decisions and choices across the canvas of someone’s life.
In the Old Testament, Zechariah paints a vibrant picture of this kind of community as he describes old men and women sitting again in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with a staff (a stick used for support) because of “great” age. They are surrounded by playing children; life and death so close to one another, like the transition from winter to spring. You might say I’m a dreamer. The truth is that I am a dreamer. I want wrinkles and a staff! I have found that valuing the future — children and youth — is deeply connected to valuing the elderly.
Intergenerational relationships are like the veins of a community. They are the carriers of our deepest held beliefs, values, and worldviews. Certainly, what is transmitted is connected to the health of the conductors, but that is a conversation for another blog. Until then, I’m enjoying the chance to age another day.
A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness.
—Proverbs 16:31 (NASB)