Tuesday, May 12, 2009

the invisible elderly

It was an interesting day on Tuesday - full of contrasts.

I got a flat tire on the way through Dallas to get to a work service project. A very nice Hispanic man honked at me on the highway until I understood he was trying to tell me my tire was going flat, and then he followed me off the exit and put on my spare for me. I'm SO thankful for his help because I'm an auto-idiot and didn't even know to say that the valve was leaking and that two nuts broke because they were improperly installed. I'm on the phone trying to describe it to Isaac like, "the big screws that hold the tire together broke, and the thing that sticks out in the middle... no, the on you put air into... it's broken too." :) "Valve" and "nuts" are now permanently burned into my memory. Several hours, a Starbucks coffee cake, and a repair check later, I finally got down to the work service project.

It is beautiful to see the value that my organization has on people and on meeting needs around us, not just overseas. We were cleaning and painting and fixing up a house that is shared by mentally handicapped folks. The joy and energy and gentle love exhibited by my friends and bosses was just... awesome. Seeing them work alongside the house residents was so much fun.

On the other hand, I was with a group of people that went to help out a block away at an apartment where one of the mentally handicapped guys lived. It was in what appears to be a low-income elderly housing high-rise, and it looked like the high rises of Cabrini in Chicago. It was.... so depressing to be in there. It was dirty and dark inside. I took to vacuuming and cleaning the filthy floors, and I found myself sweeping up multiple dead cockroaches with the dust bunnies and trash that had just been left laying around. Folks shuffled off the elevator and onto the chairs into the lobby, where they sat mostly in silence, staring out the windows. Multiple people asked multiple times if the mail had come in, and I realized a lot of them probably live for letters. I walked into their "kitchen" (which is old and empty) and found a lady looking helplessly at a vending machine that a package of peanut butter crackers that she'd just paid for was stuck in. I helped her get them and just felt the weight of her helplessness.

My friend whispered to me at one point what I was thinking in my mind, "I don't want to get old!". Thing is, I know a lot people that really make use of their age, and I think I'm okay with aging. I can see myself being someone that reads insatiably and lives simply and just enjoys the little things in life in my older years. What is striking, though, is that the "little things" often come in the form of family. I thought about how important it is for the elderly to be cared for by loving family, and what a tragedy it is that in our society, the elderly are invisible and sometimes scorned.

The people at this complex today seemed so, so lonely. Not only was it dirty and dark and depressing, it was evident that most of them were waiting. They were waiting for mail, for visits, for calls.... for their family and friends to reach out and show they cared.

I am passionate about refugees. Today really reminded that along with refugees, the elderly are another part of the society in the U.S. that really struggles and that the church is called to care for. That I am called to care for.

1 comment:

Kacie said...

Yeah, I know. With any problem it's hard to make a difference. If I live in the U.S. when I have kids, I'd like to sort of adopt a few people at an old-folks home and treat them like family - visiting them and caring for them. That doesn't solve the larger problem, but it makes a difference for a few and it would give my kids experience interacting with older folks.