Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, Common English Bible)
Every Sunday my mom goes to a local nursing home to visit with her mother. Some days she knows who Mom is, some days, she’s not so sure. Some days she is warm and comforting. Other days, she is cold and violent. My grandmother suffers, as so many older adults do, from dementia. More than 5 million Americans live with the disease, in its various expressions. It is the sixth leading cause of death, and affects one in three senior citizens. (For more about dementia, visit alz.org.)
Honor as a verb means to “regard with great respect.” It is a wide range of a definition, leaving it quite open for children to find ways to honor their parents. Scholar Terence E. Fretheim suggests, as others have, that the commandment is intended for adult children. In a time and age when care for the elderly has become a major focus for some many families. Nursing homes. Social security income. Health care.
We are called to honor our aging parents.
In the Jewish tradition, age was something to respect. We too often choose to neglect those who are older than us. Like a child who thinks his parents don’t know anything, we treat older adults more like a burden than the treasures they are. This past Sunday we took a group of third through fifth graders to a local retirement home for women. We did not have the children sing and do all the traditional things children do when they visit such homes. Instead, they went around the room asked the women questions like, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?” The kids got some really awesome answers. One woman shared how she jumped out of a plane when she turned 70. Another shared about growing up in England. The women then asked the children the same question. Everyone enjoyed themselves – both children and older adults – because someone took the time to ask them about their lives and listen.
This is why Mom goes every Sunday to see her mother. Even though their relationship has not been the best, Mom has forgiven and forgives. Even though she doesn’t always know who Mom is, Mom still goes and listens. She tells her about life and bears through her mother questioning where Dad is, even though Dad has been gone now for 14 years.
To honor our parents is to care for our parents through all the stages of life.
Maya Angelou penned some amazing words around this in her poem “On Aging.”
On Aging by Maya Angelou
When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!
When my bones are still and aching,
And my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tirer don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.