By Marge McMillen
Let me ask young people a question, but be forewarned that I already know what the majority of you will say: Would you rather die young or live to a ripe old age? OK, admit it – the vast majority of you picked “live to a ripe old age,” didn’t you?
That is a goal you hope to reach in spite of life’s many obstacles. And yet, look at how you feel about that doddering old man with a cane or that stumbling old lady with a walker. They are worthless, aren’t they? What do they contribute to the economy, to your pleasures, or to life in general? I grant you, not much.
But then, here’s where history plays a role. That couple you view as worthless was once as young as you. They might have lived through one of the worst depressions to visit the U.S. until now. And back then, there were not the government handouts we rely on today. No, it was an era when, to borrow a few words from "All In The Family’s" theme song, “everybody pulled his weight.”
Later, the man probably served in the armed forces, either in WWII or the Korean or Vietnamese war. He put his life on the line so you, who didn’t even exist then, might have the comfortable and free life you are living now.
That stumbling old lady might have joined him in battle or was left home alone, the raising of her family resting squarely on her shoulders. She even went to work, pretty much a no-no up till then, to help with the finances. In other words, she took on the many jobs of wife, mother and provider while he was off fighting wars.
After the war, if he or she was lucky enough to survive, they participated in the building of a super nation. Industry boomed while all enjoyed the prosperous times that made our country the leader of the world that it is today.
But it still wasn’t that easy. Everybody returning from the war zone was seeking job openings all at once. There was the threat of polio that took too many lives and crippled many, and full TB sanitariums. There was the constant worry of nuclear bombings, there were depressions and recessions. No, you aren’t the first to experience these fears.
But they survived. They worked, they brought up families, they bought homes, and they invested some of their meager pay in the stock market. They contributed so you might have the life you enjoy today.
And yet, you view them as worthless.
One obvious but often overlooked point is you would not be here without them. They are your grandparents or great-grandparents. They braved the world and all its foibles long before you were born. They may now be feeble in body but they are rich in wisdom.
Explore their brains, their memories. What a treasure there is there for you to discover. “What was it like? What did you do? How did you feel about … ? These are but a few of the questions that would open a treasure chest of living history. What a gift that would be.
We are one of the few nations of the world that worships youth and dismisses elders, and I can’t help but wonder why. To reach old age, you have to be either smart or lucky, or sometimes both. Having achieved it, it should be rewarded with reverence and respect.
Reverence and respect – two attributes I hope you achieve as you fight for the gift of old age.
Marge McMillen, of East Amherst, wishes young people would appreciate what it takes to achieve old age.