Thursday, April 23, 2009

Life Lessons (Aging)

Life Lessons (Aging)
Listen to your father who begot you,
And do not despise your mother when she is old. (Prov 23:22)
What constitutes a ‘life lesson?’ Is it a teaching about life in general, or is it something that is more personal in nature? In Life Lessons, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler reveal to us the mysteries of life & living by talking ironically about death & dying. They observed succinctly: “The dying learn a great deal at the end of life.” I remember watching the movies like “Tuesday with Morrie” and “Wit” which essentially touches on situations where the patient is essentially dying with each passing day. From Morrie, we discover that aging and learning are both closely intertwined.
"As you grow old, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you'd always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It's growth. It's more than the negative that you're going to die, its also the positive that you understand you're going to die, and that you live a better life because of it." (Mitch Albom, Tuesday with Morrie, Broadway, 2002, p118)
In Wit, we shudder to see a cancer patient, in trying to get a chance at life, ends up living (or dying!) miserably in a chilling world of technology and cold-hearted medical researchers. It takes an old woman to provide the comfort and discernment to recognize the true need of the patient: Companionship and Comfort. This is in stark contrast to the young, highly qualified doctors who are only too concerned about their newer state of the art medical technology, tests and results. The lessons of life comes not with youth, but with age.

Looking at society’s obsession with youthfulness, where the old is given up in favour of the young, ‘Aging’ is taboo. Even older people reminisces nostalgically on their ‘good old days’ while lamenting their aging conditions. The pattern of downplaying the aged in society also extends to the working world. In a fast-paced society, economic realities often force companies to compete aggressively, hiring only the fast who outruns the rest, the quick who outthinks the slow; and the younger, cheaper, adaptable worker who gets the job done faster and better than the older, the more expensive and the more change-resistant but loyal employee. Long live the vigor of youth!

However, biblical wisdom usually do not come packaged neatly in a young immature person, who tends to be brash with their behaviour and rash in their attitudes. Proverbs teach us to learn to listen to our father and our mother, and not to despise them. Why isn’t it the reverse? After-all, in our technological era, many older people are taking computer lessons from younger folks. The latest technology, while easily embraced by the younger people, can be a real struggle with elderly people. Some of the modern Blackberry devices can be stressful for older people to use. Internet tools on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter applications can become very intimidating, overwhelming older adults with the scintillating amount of information flung mercilessly at them. In a world where the young catches the electronic medium faster than the old, does that mean that Proverbs’ teaching on wisdom no longer applies?

Not really. Wisdom is not in terms of production or efficiency. It is not even defined in terms of technological prowess or economic riches. Wisdom does not mean accumulating knowledge and various techniques. It is essentially the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the first step to entering the door of wisdom. Such a teaching cannot be learned by a simple download from Wikipedia or a technological source. Neither can wisdom be learned by simply reading a book or attending a lecture. With and increasingly technological society on one hand, and the rising complexity of family problems on the other hand, has our culture unwittingly assumed that technology can be used to solve everything? Can technology be the solution to every human problem?

Let me raise the alarm bells that if we are careless, technology can become our modern tower of Babel. The young, while astute in technology needs to be guided by the wisdom and experience that can only be learned from the school of life. Such life lessons cannot be emailed, twittered, ebooked or processed technologically. It has to be taught by people who have been schooled through the hard knocks of life. Never underestimate the depth and profound lessons our parents and elders can offer us. There must be a reason why Scriptures insist that children obey their parents. There is no time limit to it.

Perhaps, we need to honour not only our parents, respect the elderly but also to appreciate the aging process. The way to comprehend all these is not to live a 24x7, in a non-stop arena of activities and busyness. We need to instill pockets of rest and leisurely rhythms of life to try to make sense of what it takes to call our work ‘good.’ During the first week of creation, God took a step back to see all he has done. Remember his response? At the end of each day, God was pleased with his creation and declared it good. Perhaps, when we feel busy and meaningless, by taking a step back to ponder and contemplate, we might see the bigger picture of life. If not, consult an elderly and learn from the wisdom of the aged.

THOUGHT: Do not despise aging. Delight in the lessons that can only be learned through the aging process which ALL of us will have to go through. One way to appreciate these life lessons is to instill a rhythm of rest especially in times of stress or emotional restlessness.


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