Have you ever wondered what young people will think of you as you grow older? I was given some insight into this question the other day when I overheard part of a conversation between two young men. The one said that he thought older people were a burden. The other one replied by saying that even though he respected elderly people they get in the way sometimes. This conversation prompted me to do some serious thinking.

I began to wonder if this is how my own children and grandchildren will think of me. I don’t think of myself as old but I’m certainly not young anymore either. Well, at forty-something I don’t yet qualify for the category of elderly but according to society I’m certainly past my prime. Then again, many teenagers out there consider you old if you’re past thirty. The point is that the elderly are often looked at as if they have lost their usefulness and are no longer needed. I find this attitude truly unnerving not just because I’m getting older but because it is simply not true. Many older people live full, vital lives. Even when they are battling mental health or physical challenges, not to mention the numerous other ravages of time many of these people still live life to the fullest and contribute to their families and society in more ways than we can count.

Is such an uncaring attitude toward the elderly becoming prevalent in our society? Perhaps it has been this way for quite a while and we just weren’t old enough to notice or care. Perhaps we have noticed but just turned a deaf ear and walked away. Who is to blame for this attitude? Are parents to blame? Is society to blame? Perhaps respect is just a lost art that people rarely practice anymore. It can be very disheartening to age knowing that you are not appreciated. Why is it so difficult for young people to realize that the elderly were once young too? They also need to realize that they too will grow old as well. Do young people even have a clue how much their parents and relatives struggle to raise the next generation?

It is sad that the elderly is viewed in such a manner. In many other countries and cultures the elderly are respected and honored for their wisdom yet in the United States the elderly are often overlooked. They do not receive the respect and recognition that they deserve. Even in their own families elderly members are often shunned and left alone. Elderly family members should be appreciated, cared for and valued.

Age is sometimes treated like a disease. Young people don’t want to be bothered or burdened with someone old. They stay away from those afflicted with old age as if it is a disease they might catch. Well guess what? Age is a disease caused by a bacteria called time and eventually you and everyone else will catch it and succumb to it. It happens to the young, the beautiful, the poor and the wealthy. Even those who can afford to pay for the newest and most expensive cosmetic surgery can only hold off the effects of time and age for so long.

Perhaps one day science will be able to turn back the hands of time on a more permanent basis. Until then we will all feel the effects of age. People of all ages deserve respect. Those of us who aren’t so young anymore still remember what it feels like to be young. No one wants to be old. No one wants to be trapped in a body that can no longer function right. No one wants to wake up to bones that ache, legs that don’t want to move, a back that doesn’t want to bend, fingers that cramp, eyes that can hardly read anymore or ears that strain to hear. Age is not a choice; it is a fact. The next time you feel frustrated with an elderly person put yourself in their place. Imagine what it must be like to struggle to do things that once came with ease. Put yourself in their place for a moment because someday you will be in their place. There’s only one alternative to age and its not one that anyone wants to choose.

Not every young person out views the elderly as a burden. There are young people who devote their time to caring for an elderly relative and many who enter into careers that involve caring for the elderly because they are compassionate and appreciative of older people. This is a diverse world that we live in filled with people of all ages, races and cultures. We should respect all people and we should teach our children do to likewise.

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