By Kathryn Gray
“Respect your elders, they graduated without Google!”
The sign made me laugh out loud as I drove along Eastern Avenue. But my smile soon faded while I stood in line with others daring to attempt self-checkout at the local Meijer. “You suck!” was the comment hurled by a young girl at her mother as the teen angrily crossed her arms over her chest and stomped toward the exit. There was dead silence in the checkout area. The mother sighed as she continued in vain to get the scanner to read the crumpled bar code on a bag of chips.
No one said a word. Respect your elders indeed.
Have we become so desensitized to violence and ugly words that we no longer react? In fictitious TV families, in schools, and in our own government the concept of respect is fading fast.
I recall reading a Pew Research Center study that stated, “Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 and about 10,000 more will cross that threshold every day for the next 25 years.” These are the days when our elders will be numerous in our communities. These people, these walking “treasure chests,” have been through it all. They are filled with information, history, knowledge, and wisdom. Pope Francis spoke to the youth of Rio de Janeiro on August, 1, 2013. He stressed, “This relationship and this dialogue between generations is treasure to be preserved and strengthened.”
My favorite treasure chest is Katherine Myers, or “Grandma Kate” as she is affectionately known. Kate is not a blood relative, but since I never had the privilege of interacting with my own grandparents, she has graciously allowed me to adopt her. We met at least 20 years ago at Kentwood Christian Church. Kate is a beautiful young-at-heart woman who is just a few years shy of having Willard Scott flash her smiling picture on a Smucker’s jar. Kate is like royalty in my eyes. She “holds court” on Sunday mornings in our church mall, sitting at a small glass-top table with a dollar-store sign that announces, “This table is reserved for our coffee hostess, Kate Myers, and her party.” And a party it is!
One by one they come, young and seasoned, bikers and businessman, to pay their respects to Grandma Kate. Children run from the front door to her table where she beams, “Give Grandma a hug!” with arms outstretched. She lifts her hands in a silent clapping motion as each new face approaches, with the simple joy of visiting with what she calls “her people.”
The bounty found in Kate’s treasure chest includes giving birth to eight children and raising six, losing her 19 year old daughter to asthma, living through the Great Depression and two World Wars, the second of which accounted for the scars left on her husband, Jerry, a returning veteran. Kate was once invited to travel with the Gaither Gospel group, worked daily as a hairdresser, and volunteered her time playing piano for the generations of children at Kentwood Child Development Center.
The treasure is all there waiting to be passed down to the more than 70 grandchildren and great-grandchildren that are her legacy. Kate is still giving of herself on Wednesdays when she travels to Rehoboth Assisted Living Facilities to play the piano and engage other seasoned citizens in song.
Less than a year ago Grandma Kate lived and functioned quite independently; but Father Time, as he will, sped up the hands of the clock and has whittled her world down a little piece at a time. She moved in with her daughter, Patricia, and her husband Ken, who grant her dignity and lovingly take care of her every need. Next came the surrender of her trusted Toyota and car keys. A few health concerns and gentle deterioration of her mind have slowed the pace of her life, except for Sunday mornings. When I ask Kate what her favorite Bible verse is she claps her hands together and smiles, “God is love!” She winks as she adds, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Kate’s treasure is smaller now, but she still shares gems and shiny nuggets of wisdom that illuminate what is truly important in life: Faith and Family.
Treasure chests can be found throughout our community, in our churches, and in our own families. The number of elders will be increasing in the coming years. It has been said, “Respect must be earned, not given.” These members of the Greatest Generation should be revered, respected, and given the dignity they have earned. Our current culture is fast-paced, driven by immediate gratification, immersed in instant media, and surrounded by technology like never before. Maybe I should have tracked down the young girl in the store and explained the concept of “respect your elders” to her; maybe she could Google it.