A talented young man came to interview me the other day for a documentary he is making. He got me thinking about the challenges of aging. We talked about how older Americans are perceived by many as -- boring, unappealing, too old to function, a drain on society, and some people even describe them/us (ahem) as smelly!
We talked about how people seem to give more to domestic charities that help children and pets than they do to help organizations that support seniors who are outliving their retirement funds and are literally struggling to survive in this economy. Is it because we all have kids and pets and they are just cuter?
Even though we have a huge segment of the population that is getting older and inspiring things like Huff/Post50, why is Betty White the only older person out there that we think is cool? Is it because to think about aging reminds all of us of our own mortality? Advertising is geared towards preventing wrinkles and other signs of getting old. But didn't we know this getting into it? Isn't aging just a natural part of life that we are better off embracing than fighting? Why not sustain that childhood excitement to grow up our whole lives?
I feel a joy in the simple act of being able to get up in the morning. If I wasn't older, I wouldn't be able to look forward to seeing my great-nieces. I wouldn't have been able to watch a game at Ebbets Field and glory in the Brooklyn Dodgers alongside my father. And in some cultures, as an elder, we have the privilege to share the wisdom we have developed from what we have seen.
What I saw five years ago while delivering a meal to a man in Appalachia was what made ending senior hunger my life's mission. It was a hot summer day and I was delivering a meal to a senior who the local Meals on Wheels program could only afford to deliver to three times a week. He lived in extreme poverty, and in a trailer that was equivalent to a tin can in the heat. As I handed him his meal, I noticed that there was what looked like a gaping hole in his forearm where you could see straight to the bone. And yet I watched him immediately divide his meal to share with his family, which were the nearby dogs and cats that no one else took care of. As I was leaving, I turned back to remember what I saw and vow to do something to fix it. What I also saw was a hand drawn sign displayed in the corner of his trailer that read, "God Bless America." That experience really drove me to where I am today, wrinkles and all.
You'll see it through different eyes, a different dynamic and technology, but that to me would turn a challenge into a joy. I will look forward to the day that you all take this chair and cause and make it your own, and do something that I might not be able to do which is end senior hunger or to ensure that those people who are of age are eating better. It will be a joy for me to step back and watch you guys do it.
I'm not ready for that yet but until then, I'm going to continue to try and put myself out of business, and enjoy growing up.
Enid Borden is the President & CEO of Meals on Wheels Association of America.
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