I have often thought that there ought to be two days on our calendar, and two days everyone knows like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day: Grandparent’s Day and Children’s Day. They have such days in Europe, and I will dwell on the first. I feel like our culture today is nihilistic in that it is anti-tradition and suffers from “agism” against the elderly. It starts by seeing the views of people a generation or two and regarding them as “irrelevant.” Now, first, no person who is alive should be regarded as “irrelevant.” Not even a thug in his jail cell because he committed a crime deserves to be somebody nobody talks to or listens to. Yet it goes deeper than that: society ought to honor the elderly. Their labors are what gave us what we have, and sharing their experiences with them can make us wise.
That is why one of the Holy texts of Judaism is the Pirkei Avot, the Sayings of the Fathers. It is a tractate of a larger section, the Mishna. Reading the Mishna–I have done it once–it is easy to miss the tractate and its significance, but reading it by itself in the prayer book, a person is struck by its ageless wisdom. Judaism is a faith that stresses tradition and honoring the elderly. Of course everyone knows that one of the Ten Commandments is “Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you.” The lengthening of one’s own days is the stated reward for honoring one’s parents. Although it might not be literally true that those who honor the aged will always get that reward, it is true that those who honor their elders are more likely to live without regrets when they are older.
I remember hearing a story of a man in danger of being sent off to the death camps of the Holocaust, and had a ticket for himself but not his parents. He did not know what to do. How could he leave them? Well, he prayed to God, and part of the copy of the Ten Commandments fell beside him from a truck driving by. He looked at it and it said, “Honor thy Father and Mother.” He decided it was God’s will, and he went with them. Nobody knows whatever happened to that man or his parents.
Most of us, thank goodness, are never tested in our love for our parents that way. I know there are even Jews who would doubt if they could do what that man did, and I am one. Yet he exemplifies that holy love which is described in the Bible, “Be Holy for I the Lord your God am Holy.” To be Holy means to love the sick, the weak–and the elderly.
I think about this a lot because my mom is aging–she is in her seventies–and she talks a lot about Grandma Williams. Mom has her regrets and the things that didn’t turn out the way she hoped. I hope before she dies, I will have made myself a success as an author (at least a Midlist author even if not on the Best Seller list), so she can be proud of me. I want her to die believing I lived up to the love she always gave me.