It’s no secret that the U.S. population is aging. What some have called the graying of America is well underway, and more and more older people are living active lifestyles.
For some, life really does start at 60; for others it may be 70, and what seems to matter most to this growing demographic is the quality of life they lead, not their age.
Nips, tucks, and access to quality medical care, along with an assortment of creams, dyes and workout regimens do a pretty good job of masking the bittersweet effects of aging, and that’s OK.
What is not OK is to forget or diminish the contributions of the elderly.
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More often than not in our society, we celebrate youth and denigrate advanced age.
Having seen my own mother live into her 80s and having had the honor of knowing a number of septuagenarians, octogenarians and even a few nonagenarians, I’ve come to understand just how important a contribution elders make.
“I could write a book, Kelvin,” my mother would often say. It was her way of declaring that if I’d only take the time to listen and apply some of the principles she’d learned to live by, I could avoid many of the pitfalls that had kept her from some of her goals.
From saving money to cultivating a positive attitude, my mother was always on point.
Still, growing up in a home without a father can be damaging to child’s psyche, particularly a male child. So, despite my mother trying her best to be both a mother and father to me, she could never fill the shoes my father was supposed to wear.
Fortunately for me, there were others who also took an interest in me.
George, for example, was a former Army cook who by his own admission had spent more time behind bars cooking for his fellow inmates than he had cooking for folks on the outside.
I met George while working as a waiter to pay for college.
George’s poetic discourses and philosophical ramblings were often out of place in the low-rent motel where we worked, but I always walked away from George more enlightened.
George never finished school. In fact, he never made it past the eighth grade. But more importantly for me, a hard life had taught George a thing or two about people. We had another co-worker who always appeared angry and ready to start a fight. I had had a couple of run-ins with him, and on both occasions, the best I could do was to act just like him.
George witnessed our little “back and forth” and he pulled me to the side later to explain to me what was really going on with our disagreeable co-worker.
“You know, Kelvin, it’s never what you see on the outside of a person that really tells you what that person is all about, it’s always something on the inside motivating what occurs on the outside. Sometimes when people are angry and easily riled, they’re hurting, and it’s their way of asking for help. Think on that, young man!”
Instantly, I began to feel bad for the way I reacted. I just didn’t know any other way. I was not emotionally or intellectually developed enough to recognize that things are not always as they seem.
Today I celebrate George for teaching me a valuable lesson about human nature, and I will be forever grateful to him for introducing me to a new way of thinking – as only an elder could.
Kelvin De’Marcus Allen is a writer and public relations consultant. He attends law school part time and he lives in Durham with his wife and children. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.