It’s a coincidence, but recently two people have sent me books they have written and, before publication, have asked for my opinion on them. One is autobiographical, the other written in the first person singular and both in their different ways want a hearing as Christians. I suppose in some ways I make a third. Some of my sermons are now on the web (google ‘About Belief’, and you get to them). My two friends want to communicate their beliefs in such a way that hopefully others will share, be challenged, even be changed by them.
One of the hardest consequences of getting older is that you may feel there’s no one listening to you anymore or – dreadful thought – you may no longer have anything worthwhile to say. Marshalling your thoughts as you share in a conversation, when at last you feel you have something to contribute to the subject under discussion, it may be too late to have your say.
There is this tradition in some cultures that sagacious older people are given deserved or undeserved respect, as they utter words of wisdom, born of experience and reflection over many years.
Surrounded by admiring younger people, hanging on to every pearl of advice or comment with an attention bordering on awe, the ancient plays his or her role of sharing the gentle but confident dissemination of their truth. Oh if only that was true in our battle of the generations, but of course it isn’t.
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the U.N, may belong to a different culture. Introducing the International Day of Older persons, celebrating the achievements of older people on October 1st, he wrote ‘let us pledge to ensure the well-being of older persons and to enlist their meaningful participation in society so we can all benefit from their knowledge and ability.’ That’s a great phrase, ‘meaningful participation’.
In the U.K. there is a sort of grudging acceptance that there are lots of older people around and affection for some of them, but as they stumble underfoot, hold up the bus queue as they fumble for their bus pass or in conversation search for the words they want to say, they have to take their place in the crush of human life rather than expect to be given any sort of precedence. Which is fine, and it shouldn’t be otherwise. The problem for older people however remains. ‘How can I have my say and is it worth saying anyway?