Waiting at a check out queue the other day, I saw the cashier chatting away to a lady who was quite elderly. While I didn’t mind the wait, I was quite enamored by the ease of their conversation. Much like old friends!
I questioned the cashier about the same, who let me know that she probably was the only human contact that senior person would have till she came in for groceries next week! I was quite taken aback, surely there was somebody who looked in on her?
Elderly Around The World
Traditionally in India, venerating an elder person in some form, either greeting with joined hands or touching of their feet is an expectation.
In the Arab countries, elders are greeted with a kiss on the forehead, as a mark of affection and respect.
Whereas in many Western cultures, hugs and a handshake are a form of the same. Down under, seniors are rather overwhelmed if we confer any of these affectionate gestures on them and are quite appreciative of them. To be deemed an honorary Aunt or an Uncle is quite special. Where as in India, anyone who is not family is respectfully addressed as an Uncle or Aunty.
Our cultures play a vital role in shaping most if not all our outlooks and attitudes in life. Indian heritage dictates, an unwavering respect for elders.
The magic number at which an Australian would consider themselves an elder or senior is far more advanced than back home. While our parents would probably consider themselves as aged or aging even approaching 50, a Western adult would probably be comfortable classifying themselves as a ‘senior’ at 70 or more.
Interestingly, I am aware of my shift in attitude in how I perceive ‘elders’ as I transition through life. While it was natural to scoff at a well-meaning word of advice when I was younger, today when I see an elder person, I think of the life they must have lived.
The achievements and accomplishments they would have definitely worked towards. Part of me yearns to be part of that elite group, which has earned the luxury to look back and relax. They have paid their dues diligently and now reap the rewards, so to speak.
Yearning for Mentors in Life
Living away from my own parents, I constantly look around to find that warm knowing smile of understanding. Someone, to tell you it is going to be okay, to hang in there. Lucky for us, in this country so far away from home, we found two such beautiful people who ‘fostered’ us.
I still smile at the memory of them being mindful that Indian homes don’t often allow outside footwear into their houses.
We are lucky to be living in a vicinity where we have octogenarian neighbors. The rare occasion they take us up on our offer for a cuppa and chin wag (Aussie for a chat), they are conscious of taking up our time as a young family. Still, grateful of the time we share with them.
Our chats are always very vibrant and full of stories of how much the place has changed since they moved in almost half a decade ago as newlyweds!
The very fact that they live alone at such and advanced age and manage their affairs is witness to their independent lifestyle devoid of expectations of their offspring or family. This probably is the starkest difference in our cultures. They are quite active and keep themselves engaged, reading, gardening and doing their recommended dose of exercises.
Spending time with them can be so rewarding. I come away enriched with either a life lesson or an age old recipe that would have otherwise perished with them. At the least, a funny anecdote that will continue to bring a smile to my face over the years.
As I interact with seniors I realize that truly, as we grow we shed our inhibitions, our quest for material wealth, and our need for drama. We start to long for simpler things as we did when we were children. The basic needs for love, companionship, and attention once again take precedence.
I am also learning from seniors around me, that just because they are failing in health they are by no means dependent on anybody’s mercy. Their dignity intact, all they need from us is to make them feel cherished and useful.
Bridging The Generational Gap
I recently saw a thought of opening a day care in a retirement village. There could not have been a more mutually beneficial relationship. The little ones are just the medicine ‘elders’ need to feel young once again! The elders the guiding angels for the young-lings.
Passing on the legacy of the beautiful traditions loaned to us and gently reminding our growing kids to be respectful towards the elderly will hold them in good stead. Seeing our parents eyes light up every time they are engulfed in a bear hug or the harmless ribbing my teenage son indulges with his Nana is so endearing, it never fails to bring a tear to my eye (I am laughing that hard!).
This is probably why grandparents and grandchildren make the best pairs. They understand each other beautifully and share a comradely that is often envied by us parents. The same set of people who we thought did not understand us when they were parents, now advocate the causes of our kids and champion them.
To spend time with grandparents or any elders and being blessed by them is truly special indeed. Life always comes a full circle!
Tina Miranda is an Office administration professional from Brisbane, Australia. Passionate about writing, cooking, travel and music. A mum to a teenager and tween pigeon pair. Like a lot of other migrant parents she is looking to belong while holding on to traditional values. To boast of having matured while still remaining the young carefree, blatant and audacious girl at heart, her favourite place to be is still in her parent’s embrace.