Our Forgotten Wealth:
In the novel Pushing Upward, 21-year-old Sandra Billings is at her wits end. She is dying to get off the endless wheel of a 9 to 5 job to begin pursuing her dream of becoming an actress. She is stuck, confused. She knows she has to take some kind of action, but she’s not sure which.
And then, she has an epiphany and places a fateful ad in the L.A. Times: Drama Student in Need of Rm & Brd in Exchange of Hskpg. She meets some crazy dangerous men, a few zany women, and ultimately meets Emma, an 80-year-old, mysterious woman whom she moves in with. Emma becomes the consummate mentor and changes the course of Sandra’s life.
In the film, “The Intouchables”, a wealthy, physically disabled risk taker is the picture of established French nobility. He lost his wife in an accident and his world is turned upside down when he hires a young, good-humored, black Muslim, ex-con as his caretaker. Their bond depicts the power and omniscience that love and friendship can hold over all social and economic differences.
The movie “Harold and Maude” is another example of the power and significance of inter-generational mentoring. Nineteen year old Harold, rich, and obsessed with death, finds himself changed forever when he meets lively, eccentric Maude at a funeral. Although Harold and Maude is a dark comedy, it is also a love story about an older woman and young boy, who find each other, in the most bizarre circumstance and begin to share their ubiquitous gifts.
These three examples remind us of our forgotten wealth: our senior mentors. They describe three wise elders who offer us a birds-eye-view of the unique gifts they have to offer – under the most unusual circumstances. We see in these scenarios, how, when each generation opens up to each others world, they end up filling a huge, vacuous void.
What makes these relationships so interesting and magical is how they hold onto their initial judgments and opinions – and then slowly unravel them. We see how they try to control the distance and closeness – without success – and discover each others contributions, let go of their individual egos – to simply – love. To witness these opposing generations flower and expand, and begin to see the world and themselves with new eyes, is indeed heart warming and life changing.
Least we forget the American Indian traditions, and how the village elders have been revered. These seniors earned the respect of their community and were looked upon as tribal leaders. Their rich, elaborate stories provided guidance for the adolescence, and in many cases, the youth would make fewer mistakes as they initiated their mark in the world. These relationships have lasted throughout the ages, and still form the moral fiber of a society.
Unfortunately, these examples are a contrast to what has been the norm in our culture. The lack of value we have placed on our seniors is an embarrassment. We show our lack of respect by shoving our elders into unqualified residential homes; where they are many times ignored, not only staff, but by family members who only come to visit on rare occasions – and usually out of guilt. The conditions of these “homes” are, often times atrocious. The food has little or no nutritional value; and there is sparse mental, emotional or physical stimulation to keep their minds sharp and their bodies strong. On average, only if you have significant funds are you able to place an elder into a home where they are treated with some dignity.
Rarely do we see our baby boomer generation bringing their parents into the home – to live out their lives with love and respect.
When you think about it, is it not our responsibility to insure that our elders’ needs are taken care of –– so they can be useful and be an asset rather than a deficit? Are we so oblivious to think that someday, we may be in the same situation?
While 21-year-old Sandra, the heroine in Pushing Upward, lived with 80-year-old Emma, Sandra didn’t focus on how old Emma was, or how many wrinkles she had, she focused on Emma’s wisdom and direction, her ability to guide and provide Sandra with a path of least resistance. Is this not the substantiated role of the elder – to share their knowledge and experience with the youth?
Instead of being swayed by the media’s perception of what beauty is – perhaps we can begin to appreciate the wrinkles and grey hair as something to be proud of, earnedinstead of embarrassed by.
Andrea Adler is the author of The Science of Spiritual Marketing and Pushing Upward, her breakout novel, published by Hay House. She is the winner of the 2012 Los Angeles Book Festival Award and the founder of Holistic PR.com.