Elderly couple

Everyone gets to be young, but not everyone gets to be old. This is a fact. And it is indeed a privilege to live a long and storied life. While Time is not always the kindest to our physical beings—aging may make us weaker, less agile and more disease-prone—that may just be because the wisdom we accrue as we age is more important than these measly bodies we house it in. So why then do we so often not respect our elders?

In traditional cultures, elders are revered and honored, and fill a vital role in societies. In American culture—where we’re addicted to the illusion that we can maintain our youth indefinitely—we don’t like the reminders that our elders bring. We ship them off to retirement homes or neglect them. Thousands of elders are even victims of abuse by their own children or caretakers every year. But respecting our senior citizens is incredibly important. Not only does it honor their lives, but it is also healthy for us to recognize the reasons to support and value those elders that have much to teach us. Check out these reasons for supporting, loving and respecting the elders in your life:

1. Family histories: Knowing where we come from can help us figure out where we’re going. Grandparents, aunts and uncles may all remember different snippets of a family history, which is incredibly valuable, especially as we age and want to hand down those stories to our lineage.

2. Traditions: Many of our elders came to America from other countries where small communities were the norm. Traditions valued in these communities are quickly diluted by modernity; but your grandparents may remember and continue to honor these special traditions, be they cultural, religious or both.

3. Recipes: Foodies we are indeed, and as a return to whole food cooking is all the rage today, it was essentially the only option just a century ago. Most of our elders now are some of the last of that generation where everything was made from scratch. Dig a little deep into their memory banks for great recipe ideas, cooking and preserving tips and favorite ingredient recommendations. As well, many often have an overwhelming sense of gratitude and reverence for food having lived through times of scarcity.

4. Experience: We’re all different, and each life is completely unique. But even though it may seem as though an “old” person can’t relate to your current life situation, there may be many more parallels than you may think. Just reflect for a moment on how much has happened in your life in the last year. Now multiply that by 80 or 90 and you begin to see the value in an elder’s life experience.

5. Wisdom: All that living imbues many elders with important wisdom that can only come from the combination of Time and Experience. Have a listen, and allow some space to really reflect on the wisdom your elders share. Because it comes from so many years of experience, it may take you some time to truly hear the valuable message, but no doubt, it’s there.

6. Perspective: Not necessarily as practical as wisdom, or as entertaining as experience, perspective that comes with age is incredibly unique and valuable—not just to the individuals themselves, but also to those of us who get to observe them and learn what it means to be a true individual over the course of decades and decades.

7. Aging gracefully: We can botox ourselves into immovable lips and hips all we want—but aging will happen. And we’ve all seen the examples of people who do their best to cover this up. It looks unnatural—even disturbing. Youth has value because it fades. It’s why we can choose to embrace every moment as it comes—even when those moments bring wrinkles, lines and stiff joints. Life is an experience, which includes—if we’re lucky—growing old.

8. Love: For most humans, love is the real meaning of life—all that really matters in the end. Grandparents know this, of course; it’s why many spoil and dote on their grandchildren. You learn a lot about life the longer you live—and even more about love. It’s the essence of joy, of feeling connected, accepted, valued—and those are things we could all use more of in our lives.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Darren Baldwin