We grow wiser by giving ourselves to the elderly

We grow wiser by giving ourselves to the elderly

{{featured_button_text}}

Pope Francis couldn’t have said it better.

During Monday’s Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, he told the crowd not to toss out older family members like “discarded material.”

He said “the solitude of the elderly” is “a tragedy of our times,” lamenting that “the life of children and grandchildren is not given as a gift to the elderly,” per the Holy See Press Office.

The pope added, “We grow if we give ourselves to others.”

The truth is that visiting an elderly family member benefits the younger visitor far more than it benefits the older person who is visited.

I’m blessed to still have my mother and father, both in their 80s. The best moments now are quiet ones on the back porch, as they recall life in America’s past.

I love asking my father about his military service. Drafted during the Korean War, he served two years – and had experiences thwarting racism, which he shared with me.

My dad grew up in Carrick, Pa., just south of downtown Pittsburgh. When he was drafted, Pittsburgh, like much of the country, was segregated.

The Army, though, had ended segregation a few years prior, in response to an executive order by President Truman.

Out of my father’s company of 200 soldiers, about 10% were Black. Among fellow soldiers he befriended, three happened to be Black.

One of those Black friends, who would become a mathematics professor, was being harassed by a group of fellows. The ringleader, a white fellow from Georgia, named Hodges, called him racial epithets.

My dad, who stood just under 6-foot-2, angrily confronted the harassers. Every one of them backed down – and never bothered his friend again.

But the story gets better.

See, Hodges’ father was a connected politician in Georgia, who arranged for Hodges to become squad leader. In that position, Hodges tormented a Black member of his squad, also my father’s friend, by assigning him the worst duties.

Until Hodges got busted for theft.

Stolen items were found in his locker. The captain told Hodges’ squad they could vote for their new squad leader. They elected the Black fellow Hodges had been tormenting. As the new squad leader, he assigned Hodges the dirtiest, most awful job there was – cleaning the kitchen’s grease pit.

That sweet little piece of justice happened in 1953 – 11 years before the Civil Rights Act would become law.

It happened in a very different America, in a military whose integration policies were just beginning to expose thousands of people of many different backgrounds to each other – and break down barriers.

Hearing my father’s story reminded me that while the young are quick to dismiss prior generations for their imperfections – “OK, boomer!” – they do so at their own loss.

Older folks have a treasure trove of wisdom to offer. They offer us a front row seat to their experiences with our shared history. You may be surprised by the deepness of their understanding and the actions they took to leave the world a better place than the found it.

But to benefit from their knowledge, you have to spend some time sitting with them on their back porch.

Do that, and they’ll treasure the time you give them more than you can know.

But as much as visiting benefits them, you’ll benefit even more – and grow more than you may imagine – from the hard-won wisdom they have to share.

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. 

0
0
0
0
0

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Wear your damn masks, because my child needs to go to school this fall. It's been approximately 3,839 days of quarantine, and I'm in a pretty good routine. I broke down and bought a proper desk; unlike the table I had been using, it doesn't have a support beam underneath that barks my shin a dozen times a day. I set an alarm every morning. I figured out how to schedule calls and interviews ...

Prisons play a crucial role in protecting the safety of our communities. They provide a secure environment where inmates can prepare to succes…

is not a date Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is likely to forget anytime soon. Some of the most iconic and biggest spending brands in American life, including Coca-Cola, The Hershey Company and Ford Motor Company, have joined a call for the suspension of advertising on Facebook this month. From Adidas to Verizon, many of the brands you see every night advertising on TV have signed on, ...

President Donald Trump's proposal for a "National Garden of American Heroes," is a ludicrous, transparently political stunt. It's also his latest, ill-considered salvo against modern art and architecture. Back when the 45th president was a real estate developer, he dressed his skyscrapers in glitzy glass and metal. But ever since he moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he's gone retro, as he ...

Now that many states are reopening for business, it feels like we are returning to some semblance of normalcy. Scratch the surface of this new normal, however, and we find cause for concern: Greenhouse gas emissions are creeping back up dangerously fast, partly because people are shunning public transportation in favor of private cars in order to avoid exposure to the coronavirus. How can we, ...

While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden remains semi-cloistered in the bunker/basement/television studio of his Wilmington, Del., home…

Keep your hands visible. Don't be disrespectful. Say "yes sir, no sir." No sudden movements. These are the instructions inherited by Black children for generations. The directions are given, to sons in particular, with the hope they will get home alive should they come in contact with the police. Passed down like grandma's recipe for banana pudding, the fear cuts across class and income. ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News