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On Being Old

I am in Rome. It intrigues me how fascinated we are with old things – here in Rome, we marvel at a road that dates back to 600 BC. (It is incredible really). But in general – old wine, old cars, old trees – we love old things and the stories they tell. The markings on a building, the circles in the wood, the colour of a red wine, the pristine condition of a vintage car.

There is one exception to our love of old things – people. The world sadly does not have the same admiration for old people. Well, at least not unless they can run marathons, jump from planes or do things that most young people find hard to do.

The more I see how marginalized older people are the more it concerns me. Here in Europe, at least old people are slightly more visible, mostly because unlike in South Africa it is safe and accessible. I see them walking the streets, sitting at sidewalk cafés and being part of the evening passagio with their families, three or four generations going for an evening stroll.

In a recent podcast, the statement was made that the more children spend time with other children and less with their parents and grandparents, the more they will learn their values from their peers. Not good, we all agree. The same goes for us adults – if we see the world only through the eyes of people our own age (never mind our own culture and a small set of close friends) we create echo chambers that reverberate our own voices louder and louder.

We need to look beyond people our own age to learn about life – the good and the bad. We need to start listening to the stories of other generations, younger and older, to create a more nuanced understanding of the world. For it is through these stories that our inner worlds of understanding will grow and mature, that we will come more and more aware of our connectedness, and that we develop empathy and wisdom.

Our disconnect is taking on alarming proportions. We are too busy. We are becoming more and more self-centred. Life moves too fast and we are not doing enough to slow it down. Looking into the face of a parent – taking the time to sit and look at them, be with them, see the lines on their face and the grey in their hair, seeing your own genetic reflection, gives a sense of being grounded, of history so deep and so profound, it explains the mystery of Life, the wonder of Creation. It validates your Being.

We have so much unfinished business with the generation that came before us. We are angry with them for what they did to the planet, for Apartheid, for messing us up with their Calvinism etc. They did their best with what they had and what they knew. Can we say the same about our Selves? Are we doing the best we can with what we know?

I want to spend more time with old people. My soul needs this.

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