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‘The Wisdom Of The Old…’

Good Morning. Mary and Alf will probably be listening to this, the radio’s usually on over breakfast.

Later there may be a visit to the old folk in town. Sometimes, walking the road back from the care home, a driver will slow down and ask Mary if she needs a lift.

But at 88 she is happy walking. The old people she visits are often quite a bit younger than her.

The morning may involve auditing the remains of a jumble sale – washing, sorting, repairing – before it heads to a local charity shop.
Mary and Alf live in a hidden economy, the grace economy. They do good and it does them good.

Alf, 89, a former army chef, will produce lunch from a larder heaving with past-the-sell-by specials.
Waste not want not. They are connoisseurs of the bargain.

They can remember a time when there wasn’t enough to go around.

You can’t give them a gift which they won’t give away.

They reached ‘peak-stuff’ long before the phrase was coined.

There were lots of very senior citizens in the news this week – celebrating the Queen’s ninetieth birthday.
For a change these octogenarians and nonagenarians were not being cast as a problem to fix, a bill we can’t pay. They were independent, conversational and full of joy. And they are growing in number.

Average life expectancy has jumped by 20 years over the span of the Queen’s life but still we tend to stereotype the old as a burden on society.

Tomorrow Iva Barr will be on the start line of the London Marathon… for the 20th time. Iva is 88.

‘At my age I don’t go fast,’ she says. ‘I never did really. I’ll trot around at my own pace.’

As long as their health allows it, these venerable souls will go at their own pace, they’ll take as long as they like.

‘Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past,’ as the poet-priest R S Thomas writes in The Bright Field.
Instead he says it’s about stopping to cherish these days we have now.

In a culture predicated on production, our ageing relatives and neighbours may seem to produce very little.

In a world of measurements, what they deliver is hard to quantify.

In an age of speed and efficiency… they invariably take the scenic route.

We see their physical frailty or failing memory and fail to notice that while they made their mistakes – they may also have learnt from them. To our information society, they bring wisdom.

Americans call them ‘Seniors’ – an improvement on ‘old people’ or ‘the elderly’.

But like more ancient cultures, perhaps we should recognize these people as our elders. Keepers of the wisdom society.

‘Gray hair is a crown of glory,’ reads the Bible, ‘Wisdom is with the aged.’

‘Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.’


(Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Saturday April 23rd, 2016)