It is a rather sobering thought but when a few weeks ago I received an official letter reminding me that I am due to start receiving my Old Age Pension later in the year and I needed to register my interest, I realized (not that I needed reminding) I have almost finally arrived and I will soon be officially an OAP.
The thought can elicit different reactions from those faced with this prospect, ranging from consternation and despair to that of optimism and hope. I have to confess in recent years I have been depressed at the prospect of being cast aside and unable to cope, knowing my own physical and mental powers are diminishing and sensing in some quarters anyway I am not wanted even though I am able and willing. On the other hand, there is a lot I have been able to do. I am, after all, writing this blog. I will be turning shortly to dealing with some practical matters that will have a bearing on the welfare of others, this afternoon I will be speaking at a church event reflecting on the theme of Easter and this evening I will be off for one last time this season, to the homeless night shelter that I happen to be managing, knowing this makes a difference to some.
I believe, while we have made certain headway in creating equal opportunities regardless of race, religion, disability, gender and sexual orientation, the one area that is often overlooked is age. I recall some years back when Arlene Phillips was passed over for someone a lot younger on the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel. Despite BBC protestations that age was not the issue, few believed them and there have been many examples in all areas of life. Of course the enthusiasm of youth does need to be encouraged to counter the experience of old age but always it should be about balance. It often strikes me that it is a huge loss to society when the elderly retire (or are retired) and their gifts are withdrawn. It need not be like that of course, and when I reflect on the important role the charitable sector plays in our society, I cannot help but observe that a lot of that is down to the part the old play, in a variety of ways.
It brings me to a meeting I attended during the week when a young (at least by my standards) pastor shared something about the importance of the ministry of the old, who had in his view a vital role to play, and had with him someone in the “old” bracket, a career teacher without too many ties, that was able to retire a little earlier, that was living proof of the points he was trying to make. The main point (I think) is that you are not past it when you are old; your experience, gifts and time is much needed in order for the church to do what it ought, which is to serve the wider community in a variety of ways, and while we need the young to do the work, we need the old too, and part of what they do is to pass onto and mentor the young. He cited the story of Job that had everything and then lost everything, only to get everything restored with interest when he was a lot older. I couldn’t help thinking of another Bible passage (Joel) – to do with the Lord restoring the years the locust has eaten and this despite our past failures and lost opportunities.
I think the point is, we who are older, daren’t and mustn’t give up. The needs and opportunities are many and often our circumstances are such we can do a lot that we may not have been able to do when we were younger. Life retains meaning insofar we can do things that count, and there is much we do, often small things, that can and do fall into that category. If I have a word, besides saying to younger readers not to dismiss too readily those of us who are older (as sadly too often does happen), it is to older readers, and that is not to give up. Jesus painted a picture of a world that was a harvest field, which was ripe for harvest, but harvesters of all ages were still needed to reap that harvest. Another Bible passage (Esther) talks about such a time as this. Everywhere we look, there are things that need doing and could and should be done by the likes of us in order to help others. Now is the time to be active, so please don’t lose out!