[Opinion] Retiring Homes and Retiring Ideas: An American Fall from Grace

0518nursinghome.jpgAn elderly man slumbers in a wheelchair in a Texas retirement home. Photo: Wong Champion/Reuters

Today we see it fit to discharge our elders into what we call “retirement homes,” little more than waiting rooms for Death’s final embrace, abandoning those who brought us into existence and built the nation and society we so are so blessed to behold. By throwing away our duty to the past, throwing away the experiences of lifetimes, we leave ourselves stranded, with no land in sight, sailing to a desperate future with no grounding in the American spirit and in the practices and values that have brought America from a speck on the Atlantic coast to the world’s sole superpower. Whatever happened to the notion of caring for one’s own instead of giving up and allowing some distant entity to take society’s place? Whatever happened to pride in our shared national heritage? It’s time for us to get back in touch with our roots and bring our elderly home.

Care for the elderly used to fall upon the loving family, not the sterile staffer hundreds of miles away. What self-responsibility we as citizens and families had is now offloaded to foreign bodies that, no matter their credentials and saccharine corporate slogans, will forever be an ersatz replacement for the family.

Arguments for the necessity of medical expertise notwithstanding, convenience is often a major factor in the decision to send a relative away, a factor that I find a disturbing result of mainstream society’s need for immediate gratification and total disregard for responsibility–it is this second failing that disturbs me most. Much too often I hear of grandpa being sent away because what he says makes Sally and John “uncomfortable.” Our elders grew up in a different age where different beliefs were the norm, and yes, though some of those norms may be unacceptable today, to discount the entirety of their experience is to do grave harm to the ideal of intellectual honesty that has long served this country well.

Today, it is easier to feed grandma to the wolves than it is to listen to what she has to say. Why allow someone to challenge your beliefs when you can send them away for their “own good” (*cough* your own convenience)? Indeed, this phenomena has been greatly accelerated by algorithms within social media and other internet functions that subconsciously box one in to a single ideological sphere. Click on one link or like one post and one is forever relegated to the role of follower, destined to become only more and more deeply ensconced in a single worldview when one was once open to, or at the very least able to encounter, many.

In a world in which we abandon the principles of responsibility, we decide to banish our elderly from our homes, the place where we could transmute beliefs and experiences across generations. Not everything that our elders believe in is outdated and false, especially duty to family. The child left to be chaperoned for a day by an iPad could instead be taken out with a mature family member who could show him or her the world through new eyes. This opportunity, too, is being robbed from the elderly, for without sustained, normalized interactions with their young and the rest of society, how are we to expect them to change? Unity starts with the family–as long as the family remains fractured, how can we ever expect this country to stand together?

Though daring and experimental our nation was at its founding over two hundred years ago, its success was built on a marriage of the honest past and the enduring present. America has stood the test of time because she is able to take the truths that we have learned–truths like honor, faith, and the rights of man–and imbue them with new life. Innovation does not occur in a vacuum–it is the synthesis of lessons learned and the possibilities of today. Isaac Newton put it best when he said, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Should America wish to continue to succeed and overcome its present course of division and disintegration, it must look to embrace and forge a connection to its past, extending from the annals of history, classical and American alike, to our deserving elders; to save America from the trash heap of history, and to continue looking forward to glory and success, we must first learn to embrace its past, imperfections and all.


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