Aretha Franklin had it right in her song, “Respect.” Respecting others encourages respect in ourselves. I remember when I was growing up that I was taught to be polite to my elders and respect them.

In doing this, I also learned to overlook some things that didn’t matter in the long run. I had a dear friend who, when I met her, was in her 80’s. I was about ten or eleven years old at the time, and I sat and listened to her stories about her life and experiences for hours.

Sometimes, as a child will, I would get wiggly and impatient, which must have showed on my face, because she would ask, ‘did you want to say something, dear?’

Usually I would either blush, embarrassed about being caught out, but mostly I would say, ‘oh no, please go on.’ I wanted to hear more about this woman’s life, and what life was like when she was a young girl.

Whenever I hear some young person say, ‘well, I’ll respect them if they respect ME.’ No–it doesn’t work that way. Older people have lived on this earth longer than the young, know more than they do, have lived through experiences they haven’t yet experienced—for these reasons alone, they deserve our respect.

Looking back on my own young life, I see now how brash, opinionated and impatient I was. It did not occur to me at that time that others might have other ways of thinking and doing things, and so on. In my mind I felt that people ought to do things my way, because in my mind, it was the “right” way.

I cringe when I think of the young me now. But that is a passage we all go through; being cocky and young, so sure of ourselves and yet knowing so little. Our wise and patient elders look at us with exasperation mixed with love and tolerance because they were young once.

It is too easy to look upon an old man or old woman and see nothing but an aging body with its infirmities and limitations. It’s hard for the young to remember that these old men and women were once young and strong and vital.

When I was growing up, I loved to hear my grandmother talk about what her life was like as a child, and then a young woman, wife and mother. When I knew her, her hair was gray and she wore false teeth. But in the old pictures I have of her, she was a red-haired Irish beauty with a fire-y twinkle in her eyes.

We learn so much from our elders, and in our lives we can remember so many times how their experience and advice helped and inspired us. I would hate to think that respect and honor of our elders has become a thing of the past. Our own lives would be much less rich and full without their wisdom.


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