"Old friends. Sat on their park bench like bookends. Can you imagine us years from today sharing a park bench quietly. How terribly strange to be 70."
With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, those words never quite meant much to me when I sang them so many years ago. Today, however, those words send shivers down my spine. When once I thought that 70 was a lifetime away, I now see part of my lifetime slipping away as I am closer to 70 than I ever thought possible. In less than a decade, I will be "terribly strange" -- 70. And yet I know that when that day arrives, it will meet me and I will meet it with a vast amount of certainty and resolve that the final chapters of my life will be writ with happiness, good health and a full refrigerator. Perhaps I reversed the order of that list and it would make all the more sense.
I sit here today and ponder the "Old Face of Hunger." Why, you might ask, would I do that? Because it is my obligation to do so. I might suggest that it is yours too. The "Old Face of Hunger" about whom I speak is not a Third-World face: A face of a starving child living a life amidst insects, filth, decay and loneliness. The life of this child is short. The life of this child is a life of hardship with no way out. This face of hunger still exists in our world. This face of hunger cries out to us from every point on the Earth. This face of hunger we have seen before on our television screens and in our newspapers and magazines. We are the lucky ones. We haven't experienced it. We've only seen it "second-hand."
But I have witnessed the other "Old Face of Hunger." The wrinkled faces of those in our own country living a life of hardship too. An old face who sits oftentimes amidst the filth and decay of a house once new and clean and full of hope and promise. I have seen the faces of the old as they open the door to a stranger who hands them a meal. A "home-cooked meal" that is delivered with a smile and brief "hello." All too brief, I would say, but nonetheless, a godsend. Yes, this is the "Old Face of Hunger" about which I speak. This is the face of the countless -- no 7.5 million -- men and women who are the new "Old Face of Hunger". They are an anomaly of American life. They are not headlines in the papers or stories on TV begging us for help. They are silent and silenced by the years. But they are hungry.
One should never for one second question which one to feed, which one to care for: the hungry child or the old person. No, we are better than that. We, who are lucky, should not make that choice. We who are lucky must not make that choice. We must care about all who are hungry. There is no choice here. None.
But the Old Face of Hunger, unlike the younger one, has no way out. There is no job waiting for the 87-year-old. There may not even be prescriptions filled at the corner pharmacy because of a lack of health insurance or no pharmacies, in the case of Sherman who lives in rural Kansas. The "Old Face of Hunger" is living out his life alone now. Pictures of his family, his old Army unit buddies, and even his old, beloved Chevy surround him. He sits by the window in a dusty, old two-room house and waits. He waits for the knock on the door that tells him it's time to eat his one meal of the day. That knock comes only three times a week now, but it comes.
Yes, unlike the faces of those starving children on television, the "Old Face of Hunger" in this country holds a slim promise. It is true that we have programs like Meals On Wheels to ease the pain of hunger. But those programs are not funded as adequately as those programs for children, so we still struggle to feed all those hungry Old Faces. We still have millions, many millions -- and their numbers are growing -- who face the threat of hunger on any given day.
How terribly strange to be 70. And when it is our turn to sit on the park bench and reminisce about a life well lived, I hope and pray that we will be able to say that we have a full refrigerator, good health and happiness. I hope that the "Old Face of Hunger" won't be ours when we look in the mirror... and won't be our neighbors' either. I hope, in fact, the "Old Face of American Hunger" will be nothing more than a faded memory.
Our vision at Meals On Wheels Association of America is a 20/20 vision. We hope to end senior hunger by the year 2020. Eight years from now. And for me? For me -- how terribly strange it will be to be 70.
Enid Borden is the President and CEO of Meals On Wheels Association of America.
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