Senior Year: A Rant Appeal

I hate the whole "cute old people" thing. I hate them rapping and smoking weed for laughs in movies and the fact of their having sex being an automatic punchline:

I'm ambivalent about documentaries like Gotta Dance and Young at Heart because, while they're inspiring and the stories are great to see, they often seem to play their protagonists' age for maximum cuteness. I like "Advanced Style" but wonder why we ghetto-ize it. I wish, more than anything, that we had a relationship with our elderly in which they were integrated into our lives and our cultures and our homes rather than whipped out for an "aww" and then brushed out of sight again.

We like feel-good stories, and things that end in death aren't happy. It's happy if a young person can learn valuable lessons first, but without a Harold or a Mitch Albom, it's simply depressing. (Rant over, as we say.) This NY Times piece about the regular talent shows at the Bronx's James Monroe Senior Center is wonderful, and it is heartwarming: but reading it, I couldn't help wondering if it's as moving as it is because people are doing something wonderful in the face of indifference. Of course older people can sing, dance, play instruments, enjoy socializing and performing. Why isn't this a standard feature in a city where babies take pre-verbal French classes and learn to make sushi on weekends?

In fact, Senior Services have been hit hard by budget cuts, and Senior Centers around New York and the country are closing or in danger of closure - largely because such services often fall under "discretionary" budget designations, and are not legally mandated. 1 in 8 Americans is over 65. And, yes, volunteers are needed. I've wanted to write about this for a while, especially as I've seen the organizations with whom I work get their budgets slashed, but it's tricky because I feel like the done thing is to present Life-Changing-Stories, and for the most part, that's not what it's like. As anyone who's done much volunteer work knows, it doesn't make you feel automatically terrific; if you deliver meals or do friendly visits or weekly phone calls to home-bound seniors, you become acutely aware of how very little time it is, how much yawns between visits with no companionship. But it's more important than ever, and for those with time to spare, a great thing to do. Maybe people will be wise; maybe they'll even be cute. They're people and come in a wide range of types and personalities. We've heard a lot about the depression-ready wisdom of the Greatest Generation and, yes, I daresay some people have some good tips (everyone I know grew up in New York, and the stories tend more towards watered-down condensed milk than home-canning.) but that's not why it's important just now.

*Volunteer opportunities vary from place to place; sites like this can hook you up in your area, and Meals on Wheels and the Little Brothers can also direct you, if they're not active where you live.

Glee! The Retirees' Talent Show [NY Times]