Cherish your elders
Valuing our elders is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, says Suma Varughese
India has always been a nation that has respected and venerated elders. Unfortunately, with the increasing influence of the West and the busy pace of life today, we have become more and more indifferent to their welfare. Can we sensitise ourselves to one of the most vulnerable sections of society? The benefit, I hasten to say, will be ours! I have written down three points to get there:
1. Remember, we are going to be old ourselves someday: We forget some of the most important things in life. That we are going to get old; that one day, we are going to die. When the yakshi (nature spirit) asked Yudhishthira (in the Mahabharata) what the most surprising thing on earth was, he replied that it was the fact that death exists all around us and yet none of us thinks we are going to die. And that’s true! When we remember that we too will one day have difficulty walking, seeing, hearing, and chewing, or be weakened by illness and in need of help, or become financially vulnerable, I think we will more readily empathise with the problems of the old.
When we admit that our human trajectory will eventually lead us to the shadowlands of old age, then whatever we do for seniors will not arise out of patronage or condescension but rather from an active empathy and understanding that we too may need another’s support tomorrow.
2. Let us value our seniors: We live in a culture that idolises youth and, in consequence, disparages old age. The loss is entirely ours. As someone who is a senior myself, I can testify that I find myself infinitely more wise, capable, deep, kind, and loving than I was as a youngster. Youth went in a fog of confusion and ignorance. I understood nothing about life and, consequently, was very poor at living it. It was only when I hit the mid-30s that life began to yield some of its mysteries. If youth has energy, old age has perspective. We know what is important—relationships, integrity, health, and happiness. Moreover, seniors have the advantage of experience. They truly have been there, done that, whether it is buying a house, getting married, having a baby, or running a business. We need to respect this deeply for it is not available in any school or college.
3. Let us take care of them: In the Indian tradition, we are told that no matter how much we do for our parents, we cannot possibly equalise the debt we owe them. It is only as we grow into being parents that we realise just how much we invest in our children. How much love, how much time, how much care, how much thought, how much pain. Perhaps we can never repay that debt, but we can try. For our own sake, we need to. In the Indian tradition, we have another concept: karma. Any movement towards spiritual evolution entails voiding our karma to the greatest extent possible. And since the karma we owe to our parents is probably one of the biggest we will incur, we must get cracking at it. Moreover, the same law of karma tells us that as we sow, so we reap. If we want to be looked after and cherished in our old age, let us earn the good karma to do so.
My mother lived with me for the last 20 years of her life, and they were some of the happiest days of my life. About two-and-a-half years before her death, she had a stroke and was paralysed. It was a difficult time, but my sister and I tended to her devotedly. And honestly, despite the difficulties of the situation, I look back at that time as a happy one. Best of all, I have since felt released in many ways to live my life, and I feel sure it is because I have voided my karma with my mother to the extent possible.
Suma Varughese is a thinker, writer, and former Editor-in-Chief of Life Positive. She also holds writer’s workshops. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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