Recently, I have had a “growth spurt” (so to speak) in my dealings with the elderly. They are a group of people that had never really grabbed my attention before, since they didn’t seem to be relevant to my life, right? However, I think this is the way too many young people feel.

This is a trend that is easy to pinpoint. I just typed “elderly” into Google News and pronto, the first result was an article arguing current apathy towards older people. Yes, this is an article from Pakistan – which surprised me even more as this disregard for the elderly doesn’t seem to be just in developed nations. The other results that came up were truly saddening: “Son charged with neglect
in elderly mother’s death”, “Statistics show elderly abuse cases on the rise”, “Invalid mum died alone at home” – to name a few.

In some recent volunteer work with a group of girls, I was able to visit a series of retired individuals and couples in their homes just for a one-off afternoon chat. It was in a more regional area of Australia (about five hours drive from Sydney), through a Baptist community organisation. I must admit that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, especially since we would be expected to make delightful conversation just as “three-thirty-itis” was due to take over.

I shouldn’t have worried, the first little old lady proved to be just gorgeous. As for finding things to talk about – that was another pointless concern. She could have “talked the hind legs off a donkey” alright; she just didn’t have anyone to listen. So she told us about her family, her childhood and marriage, her interests: which actually was fascinating stuff! Over the week we met old couples who had only been married seven years, others who had hit their Golden anniversaries. We were taught
knitting patterns, played Scrabble and Dominoes with rules created on the spot, and were walked back to our cars by true gentlemen. We were welcomed into homes and hearts, and bid farewell with warm hugs.

This experience brought me many insights, and even more laughs. Every person was so unique and had the wisdom of their years to share. They were anything but useless! Age may have decreased their physical capabilities, but their dignity is still intact. Nowadays I make a special effort to be affectionate towards the elderly I come into contact with, even if that just means offering a smile instead of a disinterested sideways glance. I can’t help but wonder what adventures life has taken them on, what amazing things they have seen. It is fitting that today [Oct 1] is the 20th Annual International Day of Older Persons, a reminder of their value that is too often forgotten.


Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.