Throughout the Bible, the elderly are portrayed as wise, honorable, invaluable members of society. Gray hair is viewed as a crown of wisdom and the young are instructed to treat them with respect. When addressing Timothy, Paul says to see to it no one looks down on him for being young–implying that others would have a tendency to do so.
Wow, have we flipped this! In America, the young are treated with great honor and the elderly viewed with contempt. And our elderly feel it. At a time when they should be reaping the rewards of a life well-lived, they are often shoved aside and overlooked. They are stripped of their dignity, and that, my friend, is a very hard pill to swallow.
As a teen, I worked in a nursing home and my heart often ached at the blatant disrespect I saw shown to numerous residents–because they were reduced to numbers, a task on a long to-do list. I also saw a pattern. Whenever a once independent resident fell and broke their hip, placing them in a position of dependency, this resident rarely recovered. Once their independence was taken, so was their will to live. We can’t prevent broken hips or degenerated muscles, but we can treat our elderly with the honor and respect they’re due. We can refuse to rob them of their dignity and self-respect. We can build them up, showing them by our words and actions that they are valuable and useful.
And most importantly, diligently teach your children to do the same by:
1) Teaching them to be respectful to all adults–and holding them accountable when they’re not.
2) Demonstrating respect daily. (Do you get frustrated by an elderly driver and verbally complain? If so, you’re teaching lack of respect.)
3) Visit a nursing home occasionally and encourage/allow your child to see the heart and struggles of others.
4) Use this verse often as you train your children: Leviticus 19:32 Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD. (NIV)
As you read today’s story, stop and think of someone you know…an elderly woman in Bible study, bent forward with osteoporosis and shriveled with age. The countless men and women living in nursing homes throughout the country. Those isolated in low-rent apartments. Each time you encounter one of society’s wise and honorable, pause and think of a tangible way to show them respect.
Sunday Shoes by Jo Huddleston
The old man lives alone now, since his Ginnie passed away in her sleep six years ago. His two grown children live up north and visit only two or three times a year.
He still does his own cooking, foods he likes. He cleans house, when and where he thinks it needs to be cleaned. I come in every Friday to do his laundry. That’s the only day my husband has off from the plant and can stay home with the children.
Sometimes while I’m at his small house I straighten things up a bit. Most times he fusses when I do, but I believe he really doesn’t mind all that much.
One thing he does mind, though. They won’t let him drive his car anymore.
I was there that day the two young deputies came to the house. Jacob knew they were coming. The doctor’s office had called to let him know they’d contacted the sheriff. After Jacob had the small stroke a while back, the doctor told Jacob he shouldn’t drive anymore. But Jacob went right on driving to the bank to deposit his Social Security check and around to the courthouse to sit with his friends on the shaded benches.
“I believe I should be able to drive if I want to.” He looked up from his rocking chair when he answered the deputy.
“Mr. Whitley, please give me your driver’s license. We don’t want you driving anymore.”
“I don’t think that’s right, you telling me I can’t drive my own car,” he softly protested.
“How old are you, Mr. Whitley?”
“Eighty-three.” The words added to his indictment.
“Sir, please, let me have your driver’s license.”
Outnumbered and obviously discouraged, Jacob took his thin wallet from his back pocket and slid the license from beneath is clouded window. His wrinkled hand trembled ever so slightly as he surrendered the precious possession.
Still he pleaded, “I need to drive my car. You ought not do this to me.”
Taking the license and making some notes on his clipboard, the deputy informed Jacob that his driving privileges were now revoked and he no longer had permission to drive his car. Although kind to Jacob, the two young deputies couldn’t understand Jacob’s high value of independence.
“It’s not right. I’d sooner lose my right arm than not be able to drive myself around.”
But the deputies had left the porch and only the breeze and I heard Jacob’s appeal.
Since that day his step is slower and more shuffled, his daytime naps longer; his eyes look beyond me when we talk. When I come by to take him to the bank or to church on Sunday, he’s uncomfortable. But he has resigned himself to sit in the car’s passenger seat. He nurses a silent rebellion.
Today, I decided, I’ll spruce the house up a bit more, make it a little brighter for Jacob. I glanced out the window. Rooted as usual in his wooden rocking chair, Jacob moved only to swat an occasional fly with his rolled-up newspaper.
I’d just finished with his bedroom when Jacob appeared in the doorway.
“Eleanor, what are you doing? Where’s all my clothes?”
“Oh, Jacob, you startled me. I thought you were on the porch.”
“I was. Where are all my things I had there in that chair?”
“Jacob, I wanted it to be a nice surprise for you. I’ve rearranged things so it will look a little better in here. See, I’ve set your Sunday shoes in the bottom of the closet and hung up all those clothes. I’ve even put this big picture over the bed, so you’ll enjoy it more.” I was proud of myself for being so helpful to Jacob.
“I didn’t want any of those things moved!” He’d never raised his voice to me before.
“Jacob, look how nice and roomy everything is now. I’m sure you’ll like it once you get used to it.”
“I don’t want to get used to it! Do I come to your house and move the pictures around and put your clothes where you don’t want them?”
His words yanked me from my assignment.
“Of course I don’t?” he answered his own question. “You wouldn’t like it any more than I’m liking it, either. Why are all you people treating me like this?” His eyes glistened with tears he could barely hold back. He slumped heavily into the empty, overstuffed chair, his dignity stripped away.
His frustration found its voice. “First my Ginnie goes and it’s never going to be the same. Then the doctor says I’m liable to have a big stroke anytime and tells me to quit my cigars. Next the police come and take away my driver’s license. And now, you. I didn’t think you’d turn on me too. I don’t have any living left.”
What had I done? He looked up at me as if he were the child and I the scolding parent.
Without a word, I went to the closet. I removed the several shirts and pants I’d just hung up and flung them carelessly over the chair, some falling across his lap. Jacob watched quietly.
Finally, I picked up his Sunday shoes from the closet floor and tossed them—first one and then the other—toward the middle of the room.
I smiled at Jacob, understanding that the scattered clothes helped him to regain a measure of his treasured independence. The tight corners of his mouth slipped slightly upward and his chin rose noticeably. The Sunday shoes would hold their place in the middle of the floor, right where Jacob wanted them.
* * *
Jo Huddleston is a multi-published author of books, articles, and short stories and teaches at writers’ conferences. Visit with her at her website http://www.johuddleston.com or at her blog http://johuddleston.blogspot.com
If you have a short-story, kiss from God story, an overcomers story, or a word of encouragement you’d like to share, shoot me an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail.com.