As news breaks that funding for Meals on Wheels might be cut in the new proposed federal budget, we should ask what the local impact might be on our state community. In 2010, New Jersey’s population age 65 and over was about 13 percent. It is now 15 percent. Every single day until 2030, about 10,000 Americans will turn 65, representing the fastest-growing population in the United States, so the number of elders in New Jersey is on the rise.
We should be concerned how we treat our elders, especially those who depend on programs like Meals on Wheels for basic nutrition and life-giving companionship.
We like to say we honor our elders, but do we really?
Do they become expendable because they can no longer go to work? What does it mean to say that someone is no longer productive or doesn’t provide results? Is a human being’s worth to be measured only by the dollars he or she produces?
Time for a history lesson.
Elders keep the past as storytellers. They transmit a culture’s identity to the next generation. In plays and myths ranging from those of ancient Athens to Shakespeare’s nurse in England’s “Romeo and Juliet,” ancient sages bring messages from the gods, offer good advice (which the proud young usually ignore) and act as oracles and interpreters of dreams. We think of wizards both medieval and modern, from the legendary Merlin to the fictional Dumbledore and Gandalf, from the historical Chinese philosopher Confucius to American authors Mark Twain and Maya Angelou. We turn to them not for instant analysis but for long-term experience and perspective born from traveling rocky roads.
It’s a nice image to think that ancient cultures revered their elders, but did they? In researching the cultural context of the Bible for my new book, “Ageless Wisdom: Lifetime Lessons from the Bible,” I was surprised to…