Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hello in there

Say hello in there...say hello. I predict that the John Prine song “Hello In There” will become popular again as the number of adults over 80 grows. It speaks to the loneliness that afflicts all ages but seems to lie as a burden of silence on the often immobile aged people. It speaks of “hollow ancient eyes”, and haven’t we all seen them?

I find myself in prayer for the elderly people who are my friends and friends of my friends. They are having surgery, getting home health care, being moved from their homes into group residences of some sort and being left increasingly alone as their friends die and the children care for grandchildren and spearhead fund drives for Alzheimers, cancer, and other diseases. They cannot understand what they’re supposed to be doing at this time of their lives. Why sit alone? Why not go ahead and die? What is God keeping me here for?

Recently in our newspaper was a series of letters after a reporter called a 62-year-old woman “elderly”. The writers protested that they were not “elderly” even though their ages exceeded 62. They were active and reactive. “Elderly” was for those with hollow ancient eyes. “Elderly” is for those who don’t talk much anymore; no one cares to hear their experiences, their thoughts, their wisdom.

And, often, the truth is that their children have heard it all multiple times, and their children have developed their own wisdom and their own stories. Their grandchildren are much too busy fighting for careers and rearing youngsters to listen to some old person who doesn’t even understand computers much less cell phones and PDAs. As their great grandchildren grow old enough to visit, they will be involved in sports and arts and text-messaging with their peers.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), for the baby boomers, peer pressure will still be high, and they can vie with one another for the accomplishments of their descendants. They can do this at least until they reach their 80s, and then their peers will begin to become silent and then to die. They will be the ones with hollow ancient eyes.

Each generation needs to value those before it and those who come after. Each grandchild needs to say “Hello in there!” occasionally – to develop a habit of companionship that just might be more important than instant messages and graduate degrees. Someone once told me that a liberal arts degree was preparation for living in one’s own inevitable solitude. A good education and ability to read or to hear are valuable to living in that solitude, but good relations with family and friends of all ages is even better.

So if you're walking down the street sometimeAnd spot some hollow ancient eyes,Please don't just pass 'em by and stareAs if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello."

The habit of companionship with all ages is the feast for a lifetime.

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