Opinions Expressed in "Rants," while informed by Catholic doctrine, are merely the opinions of the author.
Attacks on the Family Pt. 2 - The "Retirement" Myth
This second attack on the family, and on society as a whole, may not be as surprising as the first, which I called the "Teenager" Myth, but its just as damaging. It's also connected intrinsically, as an offshoot of the fact that lacking a formal, meaningful rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, we have generated a society of consumers. This "consumer" society equates with a society that allows itself and its members to remain in a state of childhood, lack of responsibility, retaining a mob mentality, allowing itself to be spoonfed information and propeganda, allowing itself to be distracted by glitz, glamour, tabloids, away from societies biggest problems. In fact it IDEALIZES youth and immortality, while images if age, illness, weakness, and death are marginalized and ignored.
And it has led directly to the problem I will identify today, what I would like to call the "Retirement" myth.
In older societies, a very important role is assigned to the ones called "the Elders." These are the ones who might not be able to move around so well any more, might need help getting around, but have wisdom that the others don't have. They carry the stories of their cultures. Often they make the decisions for their tribes and societies, acting as the chiefs.
But they don't in our society. Rather than spending our lives preparing for a time when our leadership and accumulated wisdom will be used for the benefit of our community, we spend our lives preparing for a time when we will be relieved of responsibility for anything but ourselves - when we'll be able to spend our time touring tropical islands, enjoying, in small doses, the occassional company of our grandchildren - basically, the time when, having worked all our lives, and earned our retirement, we get to start heaven early.
Some choose this path to irrelevance, while others have it thrust upon them. In other cultures where care for the elders is considered one of their greatest honors, here it is a burden. So rather than supporting our elders so that we may continue to be nurtured by their wisdom, we see them only in terms of their physical weakness, and hide them away, out of sight and out of mind, into nursing homes. This was one of Mother Teresa's greatest indictments of our culture.
And its questionable, in our infantile, consumer mentality, whether we spend those years accumulating wisdom or not. I know that as a priest, or more accurately PRESBYTER (a terms which means "elder"), I often have men and women twice and three times my age coming to me for advice and wisdom on matters that are quite often common sense. I find myself frustrated when this happens; "You're older than me. Why don't you know this already?" I find I ask myself. Now this doesn't apply to every senior - some seniors use their retirement freedom to volunteer their time and energy, to become leaders, pillars of their communities - our churches are full of them. But this is, unfortunately, often not the case.
Some seniors combat this reality by refusing to admit the results of age altogether. They wish to continue to be the workers and the builders in society, despite the fact that their bodies and minds will no longer cooperate. And why wouldn't they - we have no other role for them to move into, other than forced vacation for the rest of their lives.
One of the most striking examples, for me, of this reality, was during the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election. The number one criticism against John McCain - he was too old. His age should have been regarded as one of his greatest strengths, rather than a weakness. Nonetheless, his choice of a ding-bat as a running mate didn't help him, but this was again a result of the ageism that was used against him. Meanwhile, we now have a President with NO EXPERIENCE, who is expected to solve some of the greatest socio-political dilemmas we've seen in decades.
The choice has to be made, I think, by each of us, and eventually by ALL of us - to allow ourselves go grow up, and accumulate wisdom over the course of a life time, and then once we have that wisdom, to refuse to be dismissed by society, but rather to find ways to use it, to carry and tell our story, for the betterment of all. We must also start venerating those among us who are our elders; beseeching them to tell that story to us.
There's a famous adage: "Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it." These members of our society, our elders, they are our history.