Friday, October 14, 2011

Senior Citizens in Our Society

The first days of October 2011 ushered me to the world of the elderly and the retired, to groups of individuals who were sixty years old and above, giving me that precious opportunity to engage them in lively personal conversations, sharing of experiences, and interesting testimonies of life. One group was composed of homogeneous membership, widows all, while the other group was a heterogeneous one whose membership was open to all card holder senior citizens. They seemed to be fairly contented and well with the way they were in themselves, confident in bearing themselves with their peer group, boldly joking with one another and laughing heartily at themselves, enjoying the program they themselves have prepared, singing songs, reciting poems, and dancing on the stage improvised for the occasion. They, the elder folks of our society, were alright and well.

But is this really true? Is it the authentic picture of the world of our sixty-years old and above citizens? For me there was in those two occasions some hint of sadness in their voice that was too subtle to detect, a lack of luster in their faces, absence of the glitter in the eyes of many of them. The smoothness and fluidity of the bodily motions, the graceful sway that should come along with the lilt and cadence of the waltz music, the springy foot work, the fluid swing of the arms, all of these were not there. They knew very well the dance, they knew the movements required of it, but to put them into a bodily show that could entertain the beholders they no longer had it. They were senior citizens.

Reality of old age no doubt. The process of aging has finally caught up with them. For with old age comes the weakening of strength, the rigidity of the muscles and the throbbing aches of the joints, the loss of memory, vitality, and health. But on reflection it may be that our society causes the hastening of the aging process of our elders. We are living in a culture that has a strong bias for the young, the strong, and the skilled, those who are useful to its secular world view of life, an asset to its business and industry. It idolizes those who can produce the goods and deliver the services, gives high premium to those who are creative and talented, those who show leadership skills, astuteness in business, physical strength, prowess in making profits, ability to get fast promotions in office, the boldness and the brazenness to scale the social ladder of our society, the love for the fast life, comforts, cars, night life. It is a culture that gives priority to business profit rather than to the value of persons, things rather than people. These sixty and above citizens of ours by the estimation of such a kind of society are liabilities for they can no longer contribute to the advancement of the community. They have to be eased out . Harsh logic it is that soon opens as a necessary consequence the way to the enactment of the Law of Retirement. By force of that law, the once productive members of our society are cut off from their workplace and their productiveness, banishing them from social, economic, political life.

It is true that the law premises itself with a human and humane ideal, that is, to give due rest to our citizens who have contributed much to the good of our society, repay them for what they have done. Hence, the law provides specifically for a pension to sustain them in the last cycle of their existence. It also declares medical and dental privileges, such as 20% discount from purchases of food, beverages, transportation, and medicines. There is even a provision to allow them to be again employed. It truly is a humane and compassionate law, a creation of a society that has the senior citizens in its heart.
But all those benefits and privileges cannot heal the deep feeling of nostalgia, that wistful yearning of their soul to be respected as persons, to be listened to as beings of feelings and emotions, to be accepted as persons with dignity and value, members of the society which they have loved and served. To be retired is to be declared as cut off from the workplace, exiled from the community that he has through all those years come to love and cherish. It is therefore a kind of life that would make any person despondent, making the most alive and strong among us depressed. As one senior citizen put it: “When after dinner I hand over to the waiter the senior citizen card, I feel like a beggar, begging for discount.”
Is there a value to the life of the senior citizens? Can they still be a useful cog of our society and not a mere commodity to be grudgingly supported by the taxes of the young and the able? Lest it be forgotten the knowledge and the wisdom that they have heaped up through years of hard work, sweat, blood, tears, and concentrated study are lodged deep in their innermost being. They are the genuine treasures of our society.

Meantime, I noticed that the group of widows were more enthusiastic and optimistic. They called themselves “Happy Widows.” They attended the Holy Mass in Lindaville Church, their way of launching the birth of their organization that has committed itself to a spiritual vision and religious goals, social programs and activities. They are determined to respond with dignity to their state as senior citizens, reap whatever benefits society offers to them; to continue to live and let live the remaining years of their lives with Christian faith, hope and love. After all they have realized that life as a whole has been good to them. They had built up their careers, carved out a place in society, gained the respect from many. For them old age is pay off time. They have been given time to dedicate themselves to a ministry of giving back that sense of humanity if not Christianity to others. To start with the group of widows formed themselves into an organization with set of rules to follow and of officers to implement the vision, goals and objectives. They made themselves open and available to other senior citizens like them, to spend time listening to their personal stories, their secret longings and unfulfilled dreams, their hurts and joys, their successes and frustrations. It is a ministry of bringing humanity to our materialistic world, conveying person-to-person relationship to a community that is fast becoming impersonal. May their tribe increase.


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