I have just emerged from watching a beautiful television series which left me beaming with peace, happiness, hope, and optimism after every episode, but still somewhat tinged with sadness. That television can be the cause of such joy is a refreshing and rare experience in our time, as most of what we see on ‘the tube’ can leave us feeling empty, angry, depressed, fearful, and constantly questioning ourselves in a world of endless comparison.
But not this time.
This program was an experimental real-life series called Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, and is summarised on their website as:
A unique social experiment that brings together elderly people in a retirement community with a group of 4-year-olds. Could this encounter between young and old help transform the lives of the elderly?
‘Intergenerational play’ is now the latest buzz word. Young toddlers and children are engaging and interacting with our older citizens in aged care facilities, resulting in astounding medical, social, spiritual, psychological, educational and all-round beautiful benefits for all involved. Now, more of these activities are starting to spring up all over Australia and in other countries. This can only be a good thing for humanity and our society.
But should this really be a surprise to us?
This is nothing new. It is something that generations of families gone by have done naturally – that is, people of different ages mixing together and learning from each other. I, for one, hope that this shakes up the world and how we relate to one another, no matter how old we are.
The older generations around us would say that this is how life was for them growing up – parents, babies, children, young adults, grandparents, and other elders were often together, living nearby if not under the same roof to help each other, tell stories, pass on tales, recipes, play games and other activities, and just caring for one another until death. No one was alone. Families – or neighbours, church groups, and the wider community for those who were isolated – intermingled and looked out for each other. Indeed, many non-Western cultures have never deviated from this way of life, and their senior citizens are seen as wise ones to be respected and embraced.
Over the years, many of us in the West have become too busy for our own good. In the process, many of us have become hard-hearted. Yes, life is more complicated now. Yes, the cost of living is higher so that working longer hours is necessary for many people. Yes, many of us silently bear our crosses with loved ones who are ill, dying, or suffering in some way.
But we – as in collective humanity – have forgotten about or have chosen to look away from the wisdom of togetherness rather than division. We need to support each other, and we need to find that support by listening to the stories and learning from the lines on the faces of those around us. We have been too caught up with other things that in the end will simply not matter. Seriously, at the end of your life, will you be thinking about the office and your to-do list, or missing the loved ones you did not visit? Time is our most precious gift, and if we are too occupied looking elsewhere, the real flesh and blood people around us will slip away. Everything we do, and every choice we make, matters.
There are many of our senior citizens right now who feel that they have become a ‘burden’. They are told – indirectly or directly by the culture around us – that once they reach a certain age, they need to be put away where they can be with other old people like them to play bingo or bowls, be with ‘their own kind’, and to quite frankly await their death. They have very few or no visitors at all. This is heartbreaking. This way of living is sad and lonely. Every life deserves love.
When I watched the children and aged care residents in the series (another delightful part of this program was that the teachers involved never referred to the elderly citizens as ‘old people’, but ‘grown-ups’) I always learnt so much from their interactions. They were natural, raw, and real. They made me laugh out loud, and cry. There were hilarious moments (you’ve got to expect hilarity when 4 years olds are involved with anything, right?), moving moments, witty conversations, and touching facial reactions.
I once heard an Australian media broadcaster say that the only difference between old people and the rest of us is that they got there first. We are all aging, whether we like it or not. We must ask ourselves: how would we feel if we were put away in a home and forgotten? How would we feel if we were once at the top of our game but then had to face health and life challenges alone as an older person (in their younger years some of the residents in the program were war veterans, well-travelled professional photographers, teachers, scholars, etc. – but more importantly, they were and remain as good, upstanding, humble people)?
I am not old yet, but nor am I youth. I know that as I grow older, I am beginning to struggle with the youth-obsessed culture around me. I am starting to feel left out in various ways. I find myself hunting down and plucking out my white hairs as soon as I spot them, like some military sniper on a mission. I don’t like rejection, because I know how it hurts. And so I am fighting back against age discrimination and segregation in our society.
But these children – oh, these beautiful children! – show us the way and the truth. No wonder Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14). The littlies in this program do not see the grey hairs and wrinkles as a barrier. They are not repulsed. They squeal with joy and vivacity. They leap on these senior treasures, hug them, kiss them, and drag them out to play (“Come on Eric!” – Eric is the grown-up just resting his bones). And don’t get me started on how pleasantly patient these children are when guiding their grown-ups with their walkers…
In Australia, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is revealing horror stories about the fate of those in aged care, the high levels of depression amongst residents, the pressures and stresses placed on staff who are overloaded and overworked, and so on. There just has to be a better way.
We need to respect our senior generations and honour their lives, sacrifices, contributions to society, and their experiences. We need to value their humanity and treat them with compassion.
Let us play on the beach, get messy with a painting, lose ourselves in a maze, and cuddle ducklings (you’ll know what I mean if you watch the program) – young and old together.
We must embrace a life that says enough with fear, ageism, and exclusion. Enough with loneliness.
Live like a four year old, people.
Life is too short.
If you would like to read more, see the articles below. I would also encourage you to enquire about such programs in your area, especially if you have children, are a teacher, or simply wish to volunteer – discuss with local organisations regarding specific checks, training, and other requirements.
To watch the Australian television series see Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds
- Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds is raw and real but necessary TV
- The show ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’ leaves me sobbing, and I don’t even mind.
- Ageless Play (Australia)
Image Credit: pixabay.com