“Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother,” Ensign, Nov. 1983, 25
It’s 3:00 p.m. in Salt Lake City. Can you just imagine the scramble that’s going on in many homes, with those trying to decide which channel and station to tune in on? Being somewhat interested in sports myself, I couldn’t help but think as I was sitting here about some wise counsel my father once gave. I think it’s appropriate here.
“Paul,” he said, “remember: one day for church, six days for fun. Odds on going to heaven—six to one.”
He also made this observation. He said, “Whenever I pass our little church I like to linger for a visit, so that when I’m carried in, the Lord won’t say, ‘Who is it?’”
One day while celebrating the birthday of one of my granddaughters, I had her sitting on my lap, as grandfathers do, and we were talking about age, wisdom, and experience, and all of a sudden she looked up at me and said, “Granddaddy, were you born before they invented water?” Now that’s a sobering thought.
Well, speaking of age, someone else has said, “Do you know how to tell when you are getting a little older?” I said no. He said, “You know you’re getting old—
“When, after you get it all together, you realize you’d do better if you took it apart.
“When you get a little winded while brushing your teeth.
“When you reach the age when you know all the answers but nobody asks any of the questions.
“When your crow’s feet need orthopedic shoes.
“When your appendix scar hits your knee.
“When instead of Max Factor you may want to consider Kemtone.
“While sitting in a rocking chair you have difficulty in getting it started.
“When you get out of the shower, you’re glad the mirror’s fogged up.
“When you get up in the morning and you have one shoe on and one shoe off and you can’t tell whether you are getting up or going to bed.”
Well, you may have some different signs, but despite our best plans and efforts, growing older is going to happen to most of us. How those mature years are spent depends on every one of us.
To those in their golden years, age should only be hateful if it means the cessation of growth, the withering of dreams, the silencing of feelings. And these qualities, after all, have nothing to do with chronology and everything to do with heart. Douglas McArthur once observed, “Live with enthusiasm! Nobody grows old by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt, as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.”
History abounds with people who, as they got older, got better. Michelangelo didn’t undertake his monumental frescoed altar wall of the Sistine Chapel until he was sixty-nine years of age. When he died at ninety, he was still busy with his poetry, paintings, and sculpture.
Goethe, German genius of literature, didn’t finish the classic Faust until he was eighty-one. He had begun it forty years earlier, but when he came back to it, he had enhanced insight and freshness of imagination due to the extra years of life.
Herbert Hoover took on the job of coordinating the world’s food supplying of thirty-eight countries at the age of seventy-two. He was the United States representative to Belgium at the age of eighty-four.
Thomas Edison was still inventing when past ninety. Benjamin Franklin was a key political figure and a wise, insightful diplomat for America when past seventy-five.
My own mother, now past eighty-five, still paints and gardens. Her paintings are sought-after classics. Moses was over eighty when he led the Israelites. Think of the great spiritual contributions of our past prophets and those of President Kimball today.
Winston Churchill was sixty-five when he promised the British people his blood, toil, tears, and sweat during World War II. Albert Schweitzer was in his eighties when he roamed equatorial Africa tending the sick, working on his manuscripts, and playing Bach on the piano.
Now, you might have a tendency to say, “But these people were and are extraordinary, gifted in ways beyond the average.” But I say to you, the most extraordinary talent each of these had was enthusiasm, a flair for taking each new day with relish and interest, and a refusal to let wastelands of the soul develop and choke out life. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way. He said, “We do not count a man’s years until he has nothing else to count.” (John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 14th ed. [Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968], p. 609.)
To those who have been privileged by the experience of having aging parents and grandparents with them, think of the countless ways the elderly bless our lives. Remember the admonitions of the Lord.
First from Proverbs:
“The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.” (Prov. 20:29.)
Next from Job:
“With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.
“With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding.” (Job 12:12–13.)
And then there is this concern recorded in Psalms: “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.” (Ps. 71:9.)
Many is the time in my current position when those in their advanced years have sought counsel in getting their families to share and take an interest in them. I remember reading of such an experience, which I would like to share. This item was found in an old magazine. No author’s name was mentioned, just this from a heavy-hearted observer. He said:
“Just next door lives a wonderful old man. He is still very alert and active. That special morning he awakened earlier than usual, bathed, shaved and put on his best clothes. Surely, he thought, they would come today.
“He didn’t take his daily walk to the gas station to visit with the old-timers of the community, because he wanted to be right there when they came.
“He sat on the porch with a clear view of the road so he could see them coming. Surely they would come today.
“He decided to skip his noon nap because he wanted to be up when they came.
“He had six children. Two of his daughters and their married children lived within four miles. They hadn’t been to see him for such a long time. But today was a special day. Surely they would come today.
“At suppertime he refused to cut the cake and asked that the ice cream be left in the freezer. He wanted to wait and have dessert with them when they came.
“About 9 o’clock he went to his room and got ready for bed. His last words before turning out the lights were: ‘Promise to wake me when they come.’
“You see, it was his birthday, and he was 91.”
In our modern age of sophistication and progress, I find it a little disturbing that the old expression “Age before beauty” seems to have been reversed. Never before has there been so much emphasis on youth and beauty. While youth and beauty are cherished attributes, age and experience can be tremendous assets.
And, while our computer-age technology has been unsurpassed at lengthening and enriching the lives of our older citizens, I’m not so sure it has replaced or improved upon the personal touch. From the scriptures I have just cited, three important conclusions can be drawn:
First, there are advantages to old age;
Second, we can learn from the wisdom and understanding that age and experience offer; and
Third, older folks are able, productive, and useful, and should not be put on a shelf.
To those who wonder if we have an obligation to bring these conclusions to pass, the Lord’s answer to Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (see Gen. 4:9) is a resounding yes! He said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 19:19.)
The final question, I suppose, then, ought to be: “How are we going to accomplish this?” With older friends and family, why don’t you and I first—
Seek their counsel.
Visit or call on them regularly.
Include them in our activities.
Let them share their experiences.
See to it that they have the basic necessities of life.
Provide care for them when they are sick.
Treat them as dignified human beings, not as charity cases.
Let us take advantage of having grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandparents, friends, and neighbors around us. May we in our own special way reach out to them—not with pity, but with love. Consider again, brothers and sisters, this counsel from the Lord: “Honour thy father and thy mother,” that their days—and ours—might be long upon the earth. (See Ex. 20:12; italics added.)
Finally, may we do unto the aged what we would want to have done to us. Remember: our time is coming. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.