I’ve just read Karen Hitchcock’s The Medicine column in the current edition of The Monthly. She describes the relationship with a particular elderly patient and expands into commentary about how we treat old people.
“I push out into the sun and stride back to the hospital. The young rule the world; we stomp around doling out mean rations to the old, the machinery of our secure able bodies purring to us the myth that we live forever.” It reminded me of Steve Jobs’ famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech (well before cancer took hold) in which he talked about death as the great ‘generational clearing out’ (or something like that).
We should think more abut death. And more precisely, we should think more about aging. We have inherited the world, its beauty, goodness and privileges passed on by those that have gone before, and yet somehow we think of it as ‘our world’. As a boy I recall a radio spot, obviously bought by the local Tasmanian radio station from the USA called, ‘The Passing Parade’, in which the presenter gave five minute bios of those who had passed by. The image of a passing parade is a good one … except that I imagined standing on the sidelines watching, as if somehow I wasn’t part of the parade … the myth of immortality. But we are all in the parade. No-one is watching; except those marching behind us.
Our world needs continual renewal. Every twenty-something thinks their ideas are ‘just what the world needs’, and yet before you know it you are consigned to a previous decade. It happens every decade. Every ‘guru’ contributes something then passes the baton. This is a good thing. It does us well to think of our life and contribution with sobriety and humility.
And yet we will naturally look back on our contribution with pride … it was and is meaningful to us and our generation. And that’s good … indeed it is incumbent on every generation to play their/our part. The current cohort of old folks also lived fully in their prime … it will do our souls well to treat them with the dignity and respect that we presume should be dolled out to us when we are frail and shuffle around the corner out of public sight in the passing parade … while subsequent generations talk and act as if the world belongs to them and that they are first to think they are the answer to the world’s problems.
We should think more about death. It will help us to live better; with greater gusto but with more humility.