ATTENTION TO THE ELDER. Honour your father and your mother

Created: Saturday, 11 October 2014 Last Updated: Saturday, 11 October 2014


Honour your father and your mother

1. The ancestors aimed to an ideal old age in which, by virtue of wisdom, the evils typical of the age were avoided and the goods reached were kept. So is done by the Greek philosopher Plato at  the beginning of his Republic (century V b. C.) or the Roman writer Cicero in his De senectute (century II b. C.). For instance, it was get by the Italian Titian (1477-1576), painting until the last day. For the Romans, the old age began when sixty years old, and also for the XVII century’s medicine. In our society, the better life conditions have created a new situation: we live more and there are more old people. More years have been added to life, but there has not been added life to the years: Are we better prepared against aging?, how do we attend to the elders?, what does the Gospel’s experience provide?
2. We now live more. The Bible says: Seventy years to our life or eighty if we are strong (Ps 90). Nevertheless, in the Genesis it is said that Adam lived 930 years (Gn 5, 5) and Methuselah 969 (5, 27). It is said that God, irritated, set in 120 the years of human life (6, 3) and that Abraham reached the 175 (25, 7). What does all this mean? Latin writer Plinio the Old (23-79 a. D.) mentions longevities in the order of the one thousand years in Egypt, that he explains due to the use of different calendars. He says that “Orestes´ body exhumed by order of the Oracle, measured seven elbows” (3.092 meters). Homer, in the VIII century b. C., complained about the reduction of the mortal’s stature. Saint Augustine (354-430) rejects any attempt of interpretation of the longevities and affirms the progressive decadence of human nature: “We should not pay attention to those who believe that by then years were computed in another way, id est, that they were so short that one of the ours was equivalent to ten of those” (De civitate Dei, XV, 12,1), “the wise man Plinio ensures that, as centuries go by, men produced by nature are shorter” (XV, 9). Was the prehistoric man getting old? According to the prehistoric skull, few go farther than the 50 years.
3. The patriarchal family, including the individual’s life, tries to cover all his needs. Amidst his family, the old persons finds himself like unquestioned and respected master of the group. The authority that the old Person has in the family extends to the society. The rule of counsellor seems feasible. The Lord says to Moses: “Take seventy men among the old men of Israel… so that they share the load of the people” (Nm 11, 16-17). The importance of the gerusia is known in Sparta and that of the roman Senate in the Republic times.
4. Towards half of the XVIII century the transformation of the world population takes place. It is estimated in 300 million at the beginning of the Christian Era. It reaches  470 millions in 1650 and 919 in 1880. Presently, 6.000. In Europe this demographical revolution goes with an industrial revolution, commerce development, growing of the cities and also of with what is called the European conscience crisis, the affirmation of the power of the reason, of the faith in the progress and of the men rights proclamation.
5. The aging is a biological process, a  result of the action of the time on the living beings. It is considered that human aging begins at the age of 65 years. Aging carries with it a series of  physical and psyquic changes. Hiding for much time, in certain moment they come out clearly visible. The old man loses part of his physical and mental capacities, his life becomes painful for himself and for those around him. The one who has been full of  health becomes, in his advanced age, in a little attractive, ailing and, perhaps, dependent being.
6. The experts affirm that there are not illnesses typical of the old people, although a good number of them have a larger prevalence at this age. That happens with the dementia senile. Although in some cases it has its beginning before the 65, it generally comes after this age. The same happens with the cancer, the fractures, the cardiac insufficiency, the cataract, and so on.
7. Several phases are distinguished in the old age. They go from the healthy old age of the sixty five up to the old age characterized by the extreme uselessness, very subject to the avarice and the fear. It is more or less towards the eighty five or the ninety when degradation becomes evident and irreversible in persons who has seen themselves free of illnesses and physical or psychic accidents. In any case, there is a limit that man can not overcome. As the Bible says, there is a common destiny for everybody (Qo 9, 2-3). Said in another way: “Our lives are the rivers / that go to end at the sea / that is to die” (Jorge Manrique, 1440-1478)
8. According to the experts, the old men present certain limitations that must be taken into account. The physical abilities are reduced above all those related to the strength, skill and reflexes. They have more propensity to suffer injuries due to falls or hits. They may have some reduction of their defences. The lack of vitality also contribute to a larger presence of infectious processes (respiratory or gastrointestinal). The sight and hearing are of vital importance, because they condition the relationship with other people.
9. The intellectual capacity can be intact mainly is those people who have developed this capacity. In the aspects related to the quality of judgement, reflection and experience, the old men may have advantage. The memory experiments, with more or less precocity, the aging influence. The souvenir of the recent small facts, of the proper nouns, is lost very soon, just as the notion of the place of some objects. The old men may come back to situations lived in the childhood. A psyquic weakness is present making them more sensible at the time to confront changes or situations of special tension. The psyquic stability will be better protected if they receive the timely support.
10. The person becomes dependent when he cannot carry out the routine activities like to eat, to dress, to wash or to have his medicines. This obliges the family to find the way to attend the old man in his most basic needs. Many families oppose when the time to take their elder into a residence comes, and, often, the old men also oppose. In occasions this step is taken only when the situation is unsustainable and a deep family wear has taken place. Sometimes, the impossibility to offer a good care, due to lack of time, of resources or of a good relationship, leads to delegate the assistance in third persons or in institutions, which, due to the scarce public vacancies available, it also means a complex and expensive problem
11. In Spain, only a 6% of the persons more than 65 years old live in a residence, a number much smaller that the one observed in the Anglo-Saxon countries. This is due to the fact that in the Mediterranean culture a larger value is attributed to the familiar unity and that the ties are usually stronger. Traditionally, the attention to the elder fell over daughters and daughters in law, like main carer, but this solution is now under question due to the inclusion of women into the worker force or due to another causes. Initially, the Law of Dependency defends the right of receiving attention on the side of the State to those persons who cannot take care of themselves.
12. From the social point of view, the responsibilities are moving today from the family to the society. In many cases, the old man lives situations of misery and poverty. According to some studies, the situation of the old men in Spain leaves a lot to be desired. One third of our elder are undernourished as a result of living alone, of  enduring chronic sickness and of  receiving, in many cases, misery pensions. Also, more than 1.000 persons older than 65 years suicide every year. In any case, the interior drama of the aging is always present. Each person who is getting old realizes that that moment is getting near. The reaction of each person in difficult to predict.
13. Aging is a natural process that affects the living beings. Nevertheless, not all of us get old in the same way. Health state may depend of the appearance of some illness, but also of how we have take care of ourselves during the previous years. To take precautions is important, as well as to maintain healthy life habits and to carry our periodic revisions allowing to foresee the appearance of illnesses.
14. Some indications to confront the aging. A healthy diet, a balance between the intellectual activity and the physical exercise, and an adequate medication may delay the aging process. If the old man needs rest due to the decrease of his strength, he also must have a physical activity (walk, small handmade jobs, participation in day centres) and psychical (reading, cinema, TV, permanent instruction, some responsibilities, family relationship, friendship).The roll of the grandparents in the life of the grandchildren is of a great value in all aspects. Associations, homes and clubs take the old man out of loneliness and isolation. In its case, essential cleanliness care and avoiding cutaneous infections and crust must be observed
15. To honour father and mother is a commandment that leads to happiness and life: Honour your father and your mother… you will so extend your days and you will be happy (Dt 5, 16),  a father’s blessing secures the future of his children, but a mother’s curse destroys them at their roots… My child, take care of your father in his old age, do not cause him sorrow as long as he lives. Even if he has lost his mind, have patience; do not be disrespectful to him while you are in full health. (Sir 3, 8 – 13)
16. In the Bible old man wisdom is appreciated, a wisdom that is acquired from the youth. Do not despise the sentences of the old men (8, 11), ask your father and he will teach you; to your ancestors, and they will tell you (Dt 32, 7), Rise in the presence of the aged and honour the elderly (Lv 19, 32), in the ancestors is the knowledge and in the longevity the good sense (Jb 12, 12), if in the youth you have not made store, how are you going to find it in your old age? How good seems the wisdom in the old men, the reflection and the advice in the distinguished! Crown of the old men is the much experience, their pride is the fear of the Lord (Sir 25, 3 – 6), be mindful of your Creator when you are young, before the time of sorrow comes when you have to say, “This gives me no pleasure (Ecl 12, 1), the crown of the old men are the children of their children (Pr 17,6), teach us to compute our years so that we acquire a sensible heart (Ps 90). The old man Simeon may die in peace, because his eyes have seen the Saviour (Lc 2,29 – 32). A similar experience has Anna, the prophetess (2, 37)
17. In Jesus times the fourth commandment is being forgotten. Some Pharisees and scribes accuse Jesus that his the disciples break the ancestors´ tradition, since they do not wash their hands before eating. He answers them: And you, why do you break God’s command for the sake of your traditions? For God commanded: Do your duty to your father and your mother… But you say that anyone may say to his father or mother: ‘What you could have expected from me, I have reserved for the Temple.’ In this case, according to you, a person is freed of his duty to his father and mother. And so, you have nullified the command of God for the sake of your tradition. (Mt 15, 1-8)

18. Nicodemus is a master in Israel, but he does not understand what Jesus says: It is necessary to be born again. And so he asks him: How can anyone be born being already old? It is necessary to be born from God´s spirit: The wind blows where it pleases and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (Jn 3, 4-5). While his body is getting old, Paul experiments an interior renewal: While our outer being wastes away, the inner self is renewed from day to day (2 Co 4, 16). Paul recalls Timothy the faith received from his grandmother Loida and from his mother Eunice (2 Tm 1, 3). He advises the old men to be sober, serious, wise, sound in faith, in love, in patience, in suffering. (Tt 2,2). Group and communitarian integration is important. To listen God´s word rejuvenates the spirit, helps to overcome the fear to death (Hb 2, 15). In many cases, the parable of the Samaritan is accomplished in the attention to the elder (Lc 10, 27-37).

19. The “boss” of the concentration camp of Auschwitz wanted to know why doctor Victor Frankl had not fled to the USA, having a visa available: Because I knew, he said, that, a little later of leaving, my parents would have been deported to a concentration camp. But you would have your doubts, said the “boss”. Sure, he answered, I couldn’t decide it all of a sudden. Until one evening I picked up my portfolios, I covered with it the yellow star that, as a Jew, I ought compulsory to carry on my overcoat, and I went into Vienna’s cathedral. There was an organ concert and I told to myself: Sit down, listen the music and think. You are very tired, look and meditate far from Vienna’s noise. Then  I asked to myself what should I do. An interesting question, commented the “boss”, and dramatic. Yes, said Victor, and when we make that kind of question to ourselves, we anxiously desire an answer from heaven. And how do heaven talked to you?, said the “boss” ironically. You will not believe it, he answered. I left the cathedral and I came back home. And there, over the radio there was a piece of marble. I asked my parents what was that. My father was a pious Jew and he had picked up that marble in  Vienna’s largest synagogue. That stone was part for the tables containing the Ten Commandments. In the marble a gold-coloured hebrew letter was engraved. My father commented me that the letter only appeared in the fourth commandment, that says: Honour your father and your mother. After that I decided to stay in Austria and to allow my visa to expire (Rafael de los Ríos,  Cuando el mundo gira enamorado, (When the world rotates in love), Madrid, 2007, 58-59)
* Dialogue: About the attention to the elder
- Present situation is new
- Are we better prepared against aging?
- How do we take care of the elder?
- What does the Gospel’s experience contribute?